Yelm secured its first win of the season as the Tornados and the Mountaineers kicked off their 2022-23 season in a non-conference, crosstown matchup on Friday, March 10.
Junior John Kenney was the starting pitcher for the Mountaineers, while freshman Landan Halterman made his high school debut on the mound for the Tornados in the 9-5 win.
Rainier was able to capitalize on early mistakes made by the young Yelm pitcher, as they loaded the bases before recording their first out. Halterman walked his first two batters, before giving up an RBI on an infield single.
The Mountaineers collected another RBI single, then scored on a fielder’s choice to make it 3-0. A costly throwing error made it a quick, 4-0 contest in favor of Rainier.
Yelm didn’t muster any offense in the first inning outside of a Kolby Henry walk, but the team found itself chipping away at Rainier’s lead in the second inning. Aaron Youckton was walked by Kenney and eventually advanced to third base. Youckton capitalized on another throwing mistake as he scored on a wild pitch, making it 4-1 in favor of Rainier.
Freshman Tornado Jonah Smith took over in relief of Halterman in the third inning and immediately made his presence known with a 1-2-3 inning, collecting a strikeout in the process.
“Jonah came in and kind of calmed everyone’s nerves because of how he approached it. Knowing his football, wrestling pedigree from this year, I know he’s a competitor,” Yelm Head Coach Zach Miller said. “I’ve heard that about him and I’ve seen that in two weeks. I was impressed by him coming in and commanding the game.”
Smith threw 24 pitches through his two innings in relief.
The Mountaineers also made a pitching change in the third inning, as Dayton Gardner entered the game.
Youckton got Yelm’s offense going in the fourth inning when he beat out a throw to first base for a single. He then advanced to second base. Freshman Wesley Thompson collected his first high school RBI, driving in Youckton on a fielder’s choice to make it a 4-2 game. Thompson was followed by freshman Lincoln Ramirez, who also collected his first high school RBI with a double to make the score 4-3.
Ramirez finished his freshman debut 2-3 at the plate, including the RBI double.
Yelm was able to load the bases and Henry was hit by another pitch, which secured the runner third base and tied the game at four runs apiece. The tie didn’t last for long as Myers scored from third base after a hesitant throw to home plate from Rainier’s first baseman.
Ramirez continued his strong Tornado debut by collecting a single in the fifth inning, and after a throwing error, a Yelm runner crossed home plate to make it 6-4.
Rainier’s offense came to life in the sixth inning, as they loaded the bases thanks to several walks from Tornado relief pitcher Alex Zamora. A bases loaded walk cut Yelm’s lead to one run, leading Rainier 6-5.
Yelm sophomore Wyatt Robison made perhaps the best defensive play of the game in center field, as he caught a fly out before firing a rocket to home plate to catch a Rainier base runner for an out.
The Tornados were able to tack on two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, before Myers entered the game in relief. He was able to put out three Mountaineers, securing Yelm’s first win of the season.
“Kudos to Rainier. We beat them twice last year. Mark (Mounts) always has a good, scrappy squad,” Miller said following the game. “I knew they were going to come out and play us well, and by the third, fourth inning, these guys really got it figured out.”
Miller credited several young Tornados for their strong performances in their high school debuts. Ramirez, Myers, Thompson and Smith all came up with big moments throughout the game. He said Ramirez and Thompson each came up with clutch hits, and Myers’ base running proved to be critical.
“I credit them for their work prior to us, with their experiences in their summer programs that they’ve had. It really helps knowing the moment isn’t too big for them, granted they were nervous,” Miller said. “It was awesome to see those young guys be themselves, which is what I wanted from them on day one. The competitive culture is starting to build here. Other guys are getting on board with it.”
Mark Mounts, Rainier’s head baseball coach, said he was happy to see how his players competed against Yelm. Mounts said his team is young, but noted they are not afraid to compete with teams several classifications higher than them.
“Going back to 2018-19, we’ve always tried to schedule 2A, 3A schools. I tell my guys they aren’t going to shy away from anybody. With my guys, as long as we’re on a baseball field, we’re happy,” Mounts said after the game. “The biggest thing is we want to play and play early. Everyone is going to make mistakes early.”
Mounts said one area he’d like to see his team improve is by simply throwing more strikes.
“Defensively, when you don’t throw a lot of strikes you have to make every single play. And we didn’t do that, but that’s preseason baseball,” Mounts said. “We played way harder this year than we did in this matchup last year. These guys have worked their tails off to be competitive and we’re getting closer. That’s the good thing.”
The Mountaineers were set to host Morton White-Pass in a Central 2B contest on Monday, March 13. They are scheduled to travel to Morton White Pass for another contest on Thursday, March 16.
The Tornados played their second matchup on Monday, March 13. Yelm defeated Lakes High School 5-4.
Then on Friday, March 17, Yelm will host Steilacoom High School in another non-conference matchup.
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