Sweet victory: Beavers rally in sixth to third-place finish at state

Tenino takes a top three spot for first time in 11 years


BELLINGHAM -- The Tenino High School baseball team’s first trip to the 1A state tournament in 11 years was bittersweet as the Beavers allowed the tying and game-winning runs in the seventh inning in the semifinals against Overlake-Bear Creek on Friday.

But junior Hunter Sweet made sure that the weekend finished sweet as his ground ball scored the tying and go-ahead runs in the sixth inning to clinch Tenino’s third-place victory, 6-5, over Cedar Park Christian at Joe Martin Stadium on Saturday.

With the Beavers trailing 5-4, Sweet battled back from an 0-2 count, fouling off the next three pitches before watching the next three miss the strike zone. With the bases loaded, he grounded the 3-2 pitch to second base for the force out, but the shortstop committed an error, allowing two runs to score.

“I had a job to do. We had someone on third and I needed to get that guy in,” Sweet said. “My thought was to get anything close and get the bat to the ball. It didn’t matter where it went as long as it was on the ground.”

For the second straight game in Bellingham, the Beavers put the first two runs across in the first inning. Will Feltus and Kellan Knox each worked a walk, and Austin Gonia roped a double to center field to score them both.

With Knox on the mound in his final career start for Tenino, the Eagles roughed him up in the second inning with a pair of RBI doubles to left field to take a 3-2 lead. Knox prevented any further damage by striking out the final batter with a runner at second.

Unlike Friday’s loss, the Tenino offense managed to continue its momentum built in the first inning. Sweet’s sacrifice bunt groundout scored Jack Burkhardt from second to tie the game at 3 before Feltus knocked a sac fly to right field to score Leland White and give Tenino back the lead, 4-3. 

Knox found his groove after a tough second inning. In the third, he allowed consecutive walks before retiring the next nine batters, including six by strikeout. To start the sixth inning, reliever Cody Strawn replaced Knox, who finished with eight strikeouts and four walks, allowing three hits and three earned runs in five innings.

“It was a little difficult for me knowing that this was the last time I was going to put on the jersey at Tenino. It was kind of hard for me,” said Knox, a University of Oregon signee. “I just wanted to end on a win. I wanted to go out with my boys and finish the season with a win.”

With the Beavers still in front by a run, Strawn ran into trouble in the sixth. Lyal Viers’ single was the first hit for the Eagles since the second inning, and he scored the tying run after an RBI single by Chris Pruitt. Lleyton Daily brought home the go-ahead run with a single to left field, and flashbacks of Tenino’s blown 2-1 seventh-inning lead on Friday against Overlake-Bear Creek rushed back into the minds of the Beavers dugout and faithful. Strawn recorded a groundout to close the sixth.

Preston Snider, pinch hitting for Michael Vassar, laced a single down the right field line to open the bottom of the sixth, and Carson Hunt moved him to second base with a single of his own. White’s walk loaded the bases to bring up Sweet, who watched the first two pitches land in the strike zone. He swung away at the following three and fouled each of them back before taking a less aggressive approach, watching three straight balls miss.

On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sweet pushed a ground ball to second base for the force out, but the throw from the shortstop missed first base, allowing Snider and Hunt to cruise home and take a 6-5 lead.

“That was big. That was a hell of an at-bat. We’ve been talking about being tough and showing grit, and that’s a gritty at-bat,” Tenino head coach Ryan Schlesser said of Sweet’s clutch grounder.

In the top of the seventh, Strawn plunked Dylan Hicks to bring the tying run to first base and the go-ahead run to the plate. With one out, Grady Gallagher grounded to Feltus at short, who tossed to Knox at second, and Knox completed the 6-4-3 double play by beaming the ball to Burkhardt at first.

Despite having to play for third place just 16.5 hours after Overlake-Bear Creek walked them off in the semifinals, the Beavers were elated to finish the season with a victory, which was a goal of the team’s.

“It’s awesome. We wanted first place, but at the end of the day, it’s a lot better than what we started with,” Knox said. “When I was a freshman, we started off 1-11. To come to this, it’s amazing. I never thought we’d find ourselves in a final four situation, let alone taking third. Of course we didn’t get that win last night to put us into the championship game, but this is an exciting experience to be with these guys.”

It wasn’t an easy task to motivate the team after such a loss and a quick turnaround, but Schlesser said he was proud of how his team managed to put the semifinals behind them.

“This is the toughest game to play the entire year. It’s really hard to get up for it,” he said. “We were on the struggle bus a little bit this morning, and we had a pep talk 30 minutes before the game that centered us and brought us back to zero. We preached that it’s the last time that we’re all going to play together and that third is a hell of a lot better than fourth. This is special. Special teams come here, and to be third, it shows a lot of resiliency.”

Tenino finishes the season with a 20-7 record and its first top-three finish at state since 2013. The Beavers graduate three players — Knox, Strawn and Hart.