Huskies can’t overcome strong North Bend start in baseball playoff

Sean C. Morgan

Five runs down, Sweet Home found its stride, but it was too little, too late, as the Huskies fell 7-4 at North Bend Wednesday, May 27, in the first round of the state 4A baseball tournament.

North Bend came out strong, building a 5-0 lead in the first three innings against the Huskies in the first round of state baseball playoffs.

Facing Jon Bennison on the mound, Hunter Jutte led off for the Huskies, flying out to center. Justin Tow singled. Brett Blachly hit a fly out, and Brandon Keenon struck out to end the first inning.

North Bend’s Marshall Rice singled on a ground to center field to open things up for North Bend, and Cole Ashcraft struck out Jared Hampel.

North Bend Catcher Zach Inskeep doubled to score Rice. Bennison doubled to advance Inskeep, and then Ashcraft struck out Garrett McCoy. J.J. Hubbard singled to score Inskeep. Ashcraft walked Colton Olson and then struck out Tyler Laskey to end the first inning.

The Huskies trailed 2-0.

Colyn Van Eck singled to reach base in the second inning, but Kevin Seiber, Desmon Ely and Daniel Virtue all went out, while Inskeep doubled to score Rice a second time and Bennison scored Inskeep on a single.

The Bulldogs led 4-0, adding a fifth run in the third inning.

“We hit the ball right to them,” said Blachly, Sweet Home’s catcher. “They hit the ball where we weren’t.”

“They came out hard, and they played very well,” said second baseman Justin Tow. “We had our chances. We loaded the bases with one out.”

Neither team scored in the fourth.

In the top of the fifth, Tow struck out, and Blachly hit a fly out before Keenon singled and stole second. Van Eck singled to move Keenon to third base. Keenon scored on a wild pitch to Seiber, who went on a fly ball.

The Huskies trailed 5-1 but gave up two runs to trail 7-1 at the end of the inning.

“We started finding a groove and started hitting them,” Blachly said.

“He (Bennison) threw very hard,” Tow said. “He had good control.”

The Huskies started hitting against him when they started calming down and realizing they didn’t need everything on every hit, Tow said.

The Huskies made a bigger showing in the sixth after Ely went out on a fly ball. Virtue singled. Joe Salsbery singled, and then Jutte singled to score Virtue. Tow loaded the bases, and Blachly scored Salsbery, and Keenon batted in Jutte.

The Huskies trailed just 7-4 at the end of the sixth after holding North Bend scoreless. In the seventh, the Huskies went three-up, three-down, with Seiber and Ely grounding out to first and Virtue flying out to center field.

Coming back after a rough start is nothing new for the Huskies.

“The kids have done that all year,” said Coach Dan Tow. “They just haven’t given up. In the playoffs, you kind of feel it slipping away. It’s a bad feeling.”

That feeling was there for a few seconds, but it didn’t last, and the Huskies started trying to fight their way through it.

“We had those innings where we finally broke through and scored,” Tow said. “North Bend obviously played well and deserved to win. The kids fought to the very last. I think we just kind of stayed with it. We certainly had a lot of base runners.”

The Huskies had guys on second and third with an out in the third inning, Tow said, but Bennison is really good.

“He got a couple of strikeouts in big situations against us,” Tow said. Still, the Huskies collected 10 hits, a number that often is a winning game. But North Bend had 13 hits.

“They hit the ball better than we thought they would,” Tow said. North Bend had four doubles and a triple.

On the Huskies’ side, Jutte and Van Eck ended the game with two hits each, Tow said. All but one player recorded a hit. Each hitting once were Salsbery, Tow, Keenon, Seiber, Ely and Virtue. Although he’s been the team’s leading hitter all year, Blachly was the only one who did not record a hit.

“The kids swung the bat well,” Tow said. “It was a great game. The kids really played well.”

That was true of the team all season. When they get behind, many players give up and stop competing.

“That didn’t happen,” Tow said. “Every game, we came out and we played hard. I think we had a lot of fun.”

“I feel good that we made it to the playoffs,” Blachly said. “We had the mindset that we were going to win that game. We were pretty solid this year.”

The makeup of the team and the chemistry among the players and coaches were great, Tow said. He thinks a trip to a tournament in California contributed to that.

The trip to Redding was a blast, said Justin Tow.

In 25 years of coaching baseball, Coach Tow said, this is “certainly one of the neatest bunches I’ve ever had.”

The highlight for Blachly this year was just playing with his friends, he said. “They’re not just my teammates. They’re my brothers.”

“I had so much fun this year,” Justin Tow said. “We had a great group of seniors that were great leaders.”

The Huskies had some huge games, their final game against league rival Elmira and an extra-innings game against Cottage Grove, Tow said. “We won the ones we were supposed to and didn’t lose very many.”

The Huskies ended the season 11-4 in the Sky-Em League and 16-8 overall.

On the field, the team was solid in all three areas, Coach Tow said. The team was outstanding at bat. Not a single batter in the lineup was an easy out, something unusual even on the best of teams.

The team had no bad defensive games all year, he said. He can’t think of a game with four or five errors at all this year; and pitching was good all year long with Ashcraft and Virtue handling most of the duties backed up by Salsbery and Seiber.

The JV team lost just one game all season.

Six seniors leave the team, including Salsbery, Blachly, Seiber, Ashcraft, Jutte and Van Eck, but the team returns underclassmen who will be able to fill key spots, including Tow, Keenon, Jake Long, Ely, Aiona and Virtue.

“We’re losing some great seniors,” Justin Tow said. The team will be fairly young, but it will have some experience too.

North Bend lost 6-0 to Henley Friday evening in the second round. Henley was scheduled to play Hidden Valley on Tuesday.

Sweet Home 000 013 0 – 4 10 2

North Bend 221 020 x – 7 13 2