Valley Catholic drops Cowapa League title, still after state crown

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic junior third baseman Alex Tranquill fires a ball across the diamond for an out against Banks on Wednesday.

Maybe the grand stage of a de facto league championship game spooked the young Valley Catholic baseball team or perhaps Banks lived up to its hyped billing as one of the Class 4A’s state title favorites.

Whatever the case may be Valley’s 8-2 home loss to the Braves on Wednesday at Valley Catholic High School wasn’t much more than an eye-opener to what postseason action is going to resemble in a week or so. The Valiants beat Banks 5-4 two weeks on the Braves’ homefield behind the right arm of Alex Hyland and the spectacular defenders behind him. The distance separating the two squads isn’t as vast as Wednesday's score might suggest. A single loss, albeit a relatively important one, won’t derail this Valiant squad that’s won 16 games this year and has loftier ambitions.

Valley, though it had it eyes set on a league crown, is still No. 3 in the all-important 4A power rankings and will most likely host postseason contests through the quarterfinals at least, if it can stay alive in the playoffs

“We definitely had a league championship in our sights,” said Valley Catholic senior catcher Jakob Pruitt. “But the aspirations to go far in the playoffs haven’t gone away. Those don’t change at all. It’s a bump in the road and we’re guaranteed second place in the toughest 4A league there is by far. We’re still proud with where we are. We just have to get back at it and keep pushing.”

And, though Banks clinched its first Cowapa League championship in 19 years thanks to a tremendous 4-for-4 day from Jake Evans who ripped opened the game with a three-run homer down the left field line against Hyland in the top of the third Valley said there’s no need for fret.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior pitcher Alex Hyland delivers a pitch in the third inning versus Banks.

“Banks played really well, you have to give them credit,” said Pruitt. “They took advantages of mistakes we made. They hammered the ball. We hit some balls hard right at some of their guys. It was just one of those days. Another day could’ve been totally different.”

After Banks’ Trevor Thiessen and Donny McClean got on with back-to-back singles trailing Valley 1-0, Evans pulled Hyland’s curveball just inside the leftfield foul pole that traveled a country mile out of the park, but at first glance appeared to sail into foul ground. Evans wasn't sure initially if the ball was fair or foul either that is, until the home plate umpire raised his right index finger and swung it around his head like a helicopter, signaling the go-ahead three run jack that gave Banks a 3-1 advantage.

“I didn’t throw many bad pitches today, but that was one of the few,” said Hyland. “He capitalized on it, but we felt we could still comeback.”

Banks added two more runs with two outs in the fifth. Evans brought in a score with a RBI double to right with two outs on a ball that got lost in the sun, and dropped in the grass. Then, Gunnar Pintar drilled an RBI single to keep the two out rally alive and extended Banks' edge to 6-1. Banks starting pitcher David Schorn gave up an RBI single to Valley’s Chris Rapp in the bottom of the first, but didn’t allow a Valiant runner to get past first base until the fifth inning.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic second baseman Makoa Nakumura tries to tag out a Banks basestealer during the Valiants loss to the Braves on Wednesday.

“It felt like they wanted it a little bit more than us today,” said Hyland. “Our energy was a little bit down and theirs was up. They came out swinging hard and playing good defense while we came out the other way around.”

The loss will serve as sort of motivational teaching tool, Pruitt suggested. No team likes seeing an opponent celebrate a league title on its homefield and dunk Gatorade on its skipper as Banks did dousing head coach Bob Smith after the win. If Valley has its way and makes it deep in the 4A playoffs, a rubber match with Banks would be just fine. The Braves were simply on the hunt for payback after getting upset by Valley and fought with a pounding potency.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic rightfielder Will Desmond camps underneath a flyball against Banks.

“Banks is absolutely a hungry baseball team, no doubt,” said Pruitt. “They played with a lot of energy and we tried to play with a lot of energy. We have to have some younger guys step up and be in the moment and not let it overtake what they’re thinking out there. We just have to get back to playing our baseball. We’ll be fine.”

“They came out prepared and we weren’t mentally focused,” said Valley senior infielder Ethan Cape. “They wanted to win and they did. The talent on both teams is about the same. We just have to focus better.”

Pruitt said Valley has a larger group of younger players who haven’t been in big spots with a lot of bearing. The catcher explained it’s on the seniors to “diffuse” the situation and calm everybody down when the heat of the moment escalates.

“When we play loose we play great baseball and we’re hard to beat,” said Pruitt. “We just have to learn to power through adversity. That’s one thing with a young team like we have. We just have to bring the guys up and keep the intensity up through adversity.”

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - The Banks baseball team celebrates its first Cowapa League championship in nearly 19 years after beating Valley Catholic on Wednesday.

In the sixth Cape singled, moved to second on a fielder's choice, and then Alex Tranquill drove him in with a single down the third base side to pull within 7-2. Tranquill had two hits for Valley, as did Makoa Nakamura. Hyland had triple and scored on Rapp’s base hit.

“We know what it’s like to play in a big game like this now,” said Hyland. “Last year we weren’t even close to the league championship and this year we were playing for it today. We’ll learn how to play in a tense situation.”

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