Second in state: Whittell baseball falls to Virginia City in Div. IV championship game after wild run
LAS VEGAS — The Whittell baseball team fell just shy of the ultimate prize at the Div. IV state tournament — but not before adding a few more memorable chapters to a special season. The Warriors’ run came to an end in the state championship game Saturday at Desert Oasis High, where they lost to league rival and North top seed Virginia City 14-3.
“It was pretty amazing and a great experience — the kids loved it and it was wild,” Warriors head coach Devin Ruby said. “It was a lot of fun.”
After losing its first tournament game, Whittell went on a wild ride just to make it to the championship game. Following a 12-2 loss to South top seed Pahranagat Valley (Alamo, Nev.) last Thursday, the Warriors needed a pair of wins the next day at Mountain View Christian School to keep their shot at a state title alive — and they delivered by knocking out southern opposition in back-to-back contests.
“At state, we were a little more resilient than we were confident,” Ruby said. “We were resilient after the beating we took in the first game — the kids still felt like they could come back and do something, and we didn’t fold our tents.”
In the loser’s bracket against Tonopah (Nev.) last Friday, the Warriors were down to their final out before producing a season-saving comeback. Whittell scored four runs in a two-out rally in the bottom of the seventh to prevail 7-6, knocking out the South second seed when Kai Mangiaracina scored all the way from first on a Sam Berry bloop single.
“That game was unbelievable,” Ruby said.
In the do-or-die contest, the Warriors opened the scoring with a Nic Buchholz RBI double in the bottom of the third. Whittell added to its lead with a two-out, two-run rally in the next frame — Mangiaracina and Berry singled, then were hit home when Quinn Kixmiller smacked a long single to left that made it 3-0.
In the next half-inning, Tonopah rallied for four runs off Whittell starter Jake Sharp to jump in front. The Muckers added runs in the sixth and seventh to extend their lead to 6-3 — in the top of the seventh, a leadoff triple turned into an insurance run with a groundout in the next at-bat.
Trailing by three and down to its last three outs, Whittell would need a rally for the second straight week to avoid heading home. After a double play on a Buchholz liner to Tonopah’s pitcher, it didn’t seem likely — but the Warriors again showed resolve.
With two outs and no one on, Colton Ruby and Peyton Galli started the rally with back-to-back singles. They both moved into scoring position for Chris Evans, who hit a two-run single to bring Whittell within a run.
“It was kind of like zone — we had the same guys up again,” Ruby said.
Mangiaracina reached on an error in the next at-bat, which allowed Evans to score and tie the game at 6-6. The sophomore was still on first when Berry blooped a single to left field — and was sent home when he made it to third base.
Tonopah needed a pair of throws to get Mangiaracina out, and defensive execution had the ball to its catcher steps ahead of Whittell’s potential game-winning run. But instead of going to extra innings, Mangiaracina slid around the tag to lift the Warriors to a walk-off victory.
“He really had no chance — the guy threw a strike to the catcher and he was standing there waiting,” Ruby said. “He went wide and slid around, and the catcher just stuck his glove out and missed him by half a foot.
“We really had nothing to lose — I sent him and we got lucky. I don’t know how we won it, but we won it.”
Ruby picked up the win with a scoreless inning of relief — the sophomore allowed a walk and closed out the top of the seventh with a pair of strikeouts. Sharp threw 6.0+ innings, allowing six runs (four earned) on eight hits with three strikeouts and four walks — the right-hander was relieved after allowing a triple to lead off the seventh.
Whittell’s comeback win set up a rematch with Pahranagat Valley — and the Warriors exacted revenge. Behind a strong pitching performance from Ruby and timely hitting, Whittell avenged a 10-run loss to the Panthers with a 4-2 victory that secured a berth in the state championship.
“That was easily our biggest win of the season — to come back after they beat us in the first game was great,” Ruby said. “Knocking the No. 1 seed out was pretty cool.”
Ruby threw a complete game in the Warriors’ rematch with the Panthers, holding them to a run in the first and seventh innings. In 7.0 innings, the right-hander allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits with six strikeouts and no walks.
“He was unreal again — he had everything working,” Ruby said. “He kept all their big hitters at bay, fly balls were caught and he got strikeouts when we needed them — he couldn’t wait to pitch against them.”
Pahranagat Valley took a 1-0 lead with a two-out rally in the top of the first — and two innings later Whittell responded. The Warriors jumped in front on a two-run double from Galli in the third — Galli made it 2-1 after an Osvaldo Reyes-Lucero walk and singles from Sharp and Buchholz loaded the bases.
Following three scoreless frames, Whittell scored twice in the top of the seventh to extend its lead to 4-1. Ruby led off the frame with a single and later scored on a Galli double — with runners on first and third later in the inning, Galli scored on a delayed steal to put the Warriors ahead by three runs.
“We strung some hits together for some insurance runs, which we needed,” Ruby said.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Panthers scored an unearned run on a single and an error — but couldn’t get any closer than 4-2. Ruby closed out the game to notch his second straight win, a victory that sent Whittell to the state championship for the first time since 2010.
“It was unbelievable to come back and beat them and see how excited the kids were,” Ruby said.
In Saturday’s state championship, Whittell simply ran out of gas. The Warriors fell to Virginia City 14-3 in five innings, unable to keep the defending champion Muckers from repeating in Div. IV and winning their fourth state title in program history.
“We were done — we had nothing left on the mound and we were spent,” Ruby said. “Virginia City was a better team than us — they just had more depth, more pitching, more hitting and six seniors.”
Whittell used four pitchers in four innings against Virginia City, the result of coming through the loser’s bracket and playing three games in the first two days of the tournament. In the season-ending loss, Ruby and Buchholz each went 1-for-3 with an RBI, Evans finished 1-for-2 with an RBI and Galli was 1-for-3 with a double — the Warriors did all their scoring in the top of the fifth.
“Even after the game was over, the kids were upbeat,” Ruby said. “The kids hung around the field, really soaked it in and enjoyed the experience.”
The Warriors entered Saturday needing two wins over Virginia City to win the state championship, but didn’t have enough to force a winner-take-all game. Whittell has won three state titles in baseball, with its last coming in 2010 in Div. III.
“Nobody expected these guys to do anything in league, nobody expected them to go to zone, nobody expected them to come out of zone and nobody expected them to go to state,” Ruby said. “The only people expecting us to do damage at state were our guys.
“If you don’t have kids that buy in, want to work hard together and have good team chemistry a season like this never happens. I give credit to the players coming to practice ready to work — the kids were awesome.”
In its second season under Ruby, Whittell bounced back from a three-win campaign and exceeded all expectations en route to finishing as Div. IV state runner-up with a 26-9 record. And with only one senior starter graduating, the 2015 campaign has the potential to be the foundation for a successful era of Warriors baseball.
“All in all, it was pretty amazing,” Ruby said.
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