No. 3 Huskies shocked by Astoria in first round playoff upset
Last week's first-round game between the No. 3 North Marion Huskies and the visiting Astoria Fishermen on May 22 featured everything one could ask for from a state playoff game.
Two lights out pitching performances were backed by crisp defenses and all the drama of a win-or-go-home atmosphere at Bob Brack Stadium. The only thing missing was a North Marion win.
The Huskies (23-3, 14-1 Tri-Valley) were shocked in the first round of the 2019 4A state playoffs, falling 2-1 to Astoria (13-10, 6-6 Cowapa) in a 10-inning marathon that saw North Marion's state championship aspirations evaporate in a pitching showdown that featured both starters gutting out impressive extra-inning efforts.
"If you look at the game, you really have to tip your hat to Astoria, because they played exceptionally well," North Marion head coach Randy Brack said. "Not taking away from anything they did, because they made some really huge plays defensively that were tough plays that they turned into outs."
Huskies starter Grant Henry went for eight innings, giving up no earned runs and two hits while striking out 11 batters. But he was matched by Astoria junior Dylan Rush, who scattered eight hits across nine innings, while striking out two batters.
Together, the starters accounted for just two walks and were backed up by big defensive performances that saw both teams held scoreless for a seven-inning stretch until the Fishermen scored the game-winning run in the top of the 10th.
Turning to Grant Henry for relief in the ninth inning, the Huskies took down the Astoria batters 1-2-3 to set up a game-winning situation in the bottom of the inning when Nic Iliyn walked with two outs on the board and stole second to get into scoring position. But teammate Jared Hauser popped out to end the inning.
In the top of the 10th, Grant Henry opened with his third strikeout and grazed Josiah Hirsch with a pitch, putting him on first. After recording the second out, Henry plunked Dylan Rush on the leg to move Hirsch into scoring position, and leadoff hitter Adam Feldman followed by taking a 3-1 pitch to shallow left field to score Hirsch.
The Huskies got out of the inning and had a chance to tie it up in the bottom of the frame when Griffin Henry got hit himself, but Astoria reliever Burke Matthews induced a strikeout and grounder to end the inning and deliver the improbable victory.
North Marion had multiple opportunities over the second half of the game to score the game-winning run, putting runners on second base in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings. But each time, Rush was able to get out of the jam with a timely pop out or a big defensive play.
"They did a really good job of making all the routine plays," Brack said. "High school baseball, in all honesty, to score runs you're usually given base on balls, defense makes some errors and then you scatter some hits."
North Marion's best opportunity to go ahead came in the fourth inning when Noah Wierstra opened the inning with a single and made his way to third with one out on the board.
Hunter Wierstra popped to right field for the second out and Noah Wierstra attempted to convert the sacrifice into the go-ahead run, but Jalmer Johnson's throw to catcher Ebin Hillard was on the mark for the third out to end the inning.
"It's a gamble, but then it's a high school arm," Brack said of the decision to go for the sacrifice run. "He's got to make the throw, they've got to make the tag and get the out and they did it. (Rush's) defense just kept making all the plays."
The loss put an end to a season in which the Huskies were ranked No. 1 in the state for the majority of the year as the team was looking to build on last year's trip to the state semifinals.
"We played our hearts and soul out there. It wasn't a case of looking ahead. These kids were so good at playing each game one at a time," Brack said. "It's heartbreaking and I know everybody — we had our sights set real high, and this team was super cohesive — totally understood the team concept of what we were trying to do. We just ran into a team that played exceptional."