State bound: Whittell baseball punches ticket in dramatic fashion
Division IV State Tournament
Thursday-Saturday in Las Vegas
at Durango High
Game 1: (1S) Pahranagat Valley (18-2) vs. (2N) Whittell (24-7), 10 a.m.
Game 2: (1N) Virginia City (18-3) vs. (2S) Tonopah (10-8), 1 p.m.
at Mountain View Christian School
Game 3: G1 Winner-G2 Winner, 10 a.m.
Game 4: G1 Loser-G2 Loser, 1 p.m.
Game 5: G3 Loser-G4 Winner, 4 p.m.
at Desert Oasis High or Foothill High
Game 6: Championship — G3 Winner-G5 Winner, 9 a.m.
Game 7: Championship — If necessary, following Game 6
WELLS, Nev. — The Whittell baseball team simply aimed to be competitive at the start of the 2015 season — and now it will have the chance to do that at the highest level. The Warriors won two games at the Div. IV Northern League tournament last weekend at Wells High, and secured a state playoff berth with a dramatic walk-off victory over the host Leopards on Saturday.
Second-seeded Whittell (24-7) split its first two games to set up an elimination game with state implications against fourth-seeded Wells on Saturday morning — and seven innings weren’t enough to decide the back-and-forth contest. The Warriors eventually downed the Leopards 6-5 in eight innings, winning when Colton Ruby and Peyton Galli raced home in the same sequence following a passed ball.
“One pitch and complete chaos,” Warriors head coach Devin Ruby said. “It went from thinking we were going to lose to wondering what happened.”
Whittell built a three-run lead against the Leopards with runs in the first three frames, but that advantage evaporated when Wells scored four times in an error-filled top of the fifth to go in front 4-3. The Warriors tied the game in the next half-inning when a Ruby line drive to center field was misplayed, allowing Jake Sharp to score from second base.
“We had beaten Wells soundly during the year, but they were a much better team,” Ruby said. “Luckily we were able to push one across in the bottom half of that inning.”
After scoreless frames in the sixth and seventh, the game went into extra innings — and Wells didn’t waste any time breaking the deadlock. The Leopards turned a leadoff single into a run in the top of the eighth, taking a 5-4 lead on a Warriors’ error with two outs.
Trailing by a run entering the bottom of the eighth, Whittell needed a rally to keep its season alive — and late-game heroics looked likely after Ruby and Galli reached safely with no outs and quickly moved into scoring position. But a bunt pop-up and strikeout later, they were still on second and third with the Warriors down to their final out.
With Quinn Kixmiller at the plate facing a 1-1 count, the next pitch led to an improbable sequence that vaulted Whittell to victory. Wells’ pitcher threw an fastball outside that went off the catcher’s shin guard and bounced six feet away — seeing this, Ruby headed home and Galli led off from second.
Ruby scored to tie the game, and the Leopards’ catcher threw the ball past the pitcher covering home plate in an attempt to get him out. Galli saw that miscue and sprinted around third for home, making it safely for the game-winning run that secured Whittell’s first state appearance in four seasons.
“I was getting ready to tell Peyton to go — before I could get anything out of my mouth he just blew by me,” Ruby said. “He already read it and saw the throw — he went right through me and was safe at home.
“We dogpiled on each other and the place went crazy — it was unbelievable.”
Ruby threw a complete game in the extra-inning win, allowing five runs (one earned) on four hits in 8.0 innings. The right-hander struck out eight and walked four in the longest outing by a Whittell pitcher this season.
A day earlier, Whittell opened the league tournament by exacting revenge against Mineral County. The Warriors beat the third-seeded Serpents 9-4 in the first round, avenging a sweep when the teams played a doubleheader during the regular season.
“We couldn’t wait to play them — our whole team wanted to play them again,” Ruby said. “That was a nice win.”
Ahead 2-0, Whittell broke the game open with a five-run fifth. Chris Evans started the scoring with an RBI double and Sam Berry capped it with a run-scoring groundout — in between, Evans and Kai Mangiaracina scored on back-to-back Mineral County errors.
After Mineral County scored a pair of runs in the top of the fifth to make it 7-2, the Warriors answered with two of their own. The Serpents put two runs up after loading the bases in the sixth, but couldn’t get any closer than 9-4 — Galli pitched a scoreless seventh to secure the win.
In a complete game performance, Galli allowed four runs on six hits over 7.0 innings. The right-hander struck out six and walked two to help Whittell advance to the winner’s bracket.
Inclement weather pushed Whittell’s winner’s bracket contest against top-seeded Virginia City from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning. Against the league champion Muckers, the Warriors fell 6-4 in a game they let slip away.
Whittell opened the scoring in the first with a Galli RBI double to right-center field. Virginia City took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second, and the Warriors tied the game in the next half-inning when Osvaldo Reyes-Lucero scored on an error.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Muckers rode a two-out rally to a lead they wouldn’t give up. With two outs and nobody on, a hit by pitch and two walks loaded the bases — then a hard-hit fly ball over the head of right fielder Troy Libert cleared them and made it 5-2.
“If he catches that ball and ends the inning, we probably win that game,” Ruby said.
The Warriors scored a run in both the sixth and seventh innings, but it wasn’t enough to come back. An RBI double from Nic Buchholz in the top of the seventh capped Whittell’s scoring in the two-run defeat.
Buchholz started opposite Virginia City ace Clint Hess and threw 5.0 innings, allowing five runs (three earned) on six hits with three walks. Sharp pitched in relief and allowed a run on one hit in the sixth.
“The plan was to throw Peyton first and save Colton for the third game, to make sure we had a shot to go to state,” Ruby said. “That part was accomplished.”
After Whittell clinched the state tournament berth by beating Wells, the Warriors decided to forfeit the championship game against Virginia City in an effort to save starting pitching. As a result, the Warriors will head to Las Vegas for Div. IV state tournament as the North’s second seed.
“We both just decided what’s the point,” Ruby said. “We were the two best teams there and they beat us in league, so we decided to just call it — the right two teams were going and they were seeded No. 1.”
The Warriors are making their first state appearance since 2011 and open Thursday at 10 a.m. against South top seed Pahranagat Valley (Alamo, Nev.) (18-2) at Durango High. In the bottom half of the bracket, North top seed Virginia City (18-3) will meet South second seed Tonopah (Nev.) (10-8) at 1 p.m.
“We’re looking forward to state — we drew the No. 1 seed and they look awfully good, but anything can happen,” Ruby said.
The tournament resumes Friday at Mountain View Christian School, with the first round winners meeting at 10 a.m. and the losers playing at 1 p.m. — a second elimination game will be played at 4 p.m. The Div. IV championship is scheduled for Saturday at 9 a.m. at either Foothill High or Desert Oasis High, with a game to follow if necessary.
After winning two games in 2014 and 10 games combined over the previous three seasons, Whittell now sits three wins away from a state championship. The Warriors gained confidence after starting the season with 15 straight wins, and will conclude a turnaround campaign vying for the ultimate prize — something nearly impossible to envision before the season got underway.
“I want them to enjoy the fact we’re going and play baseball,” Ruby said. “We really have nothing to lose down there — nobody expected us to go to state.”
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