TACOMA — Nothing came easily for the injury-riddled Columbia River baseball team this season, so the Chieftains did not mind picking up an easy victory Saturday to make it back to the Class 3A state playoffs.
Clark Bryant threw a four-hit shutout, Oscar Golberg drove in three runs, and the Chieftains cruised past Shelton 9-0 in a winner-to-state game in the bi-district tournament at Heidelberg Park.
“Last night, I couldn’t really sleep I was so excited. I was ready to play,” Bryant said. “This morning, I knew our team had the energy and we were going to come out and win this game.”
Columbia River lost to Decatur of Federal Way 5-4 in a seeding game Saturday night. That loss will sent River to the Pasco Regional on Saturday to face Southridge of Kennewick at 10 a.m.
Bryant got Shelton down in order in the top of the first, then Golberg drove in Michael McCann with a single in the bottom of the inning to set the tone. It turned out, that’s all Bryant and the River defense would need.
“I noticed our energy in the dugout,” Bryant said. “That first run gave me even more motivation to throw.”
Bryant would end up getting the first eight Shelton batters out. He gave up three singles and two walks in the first six innings, and he picked off two of the base-runners.
The River defense behind him was flawless. Bryant had three strikeouts and those pick-offs, and the Chieftains did not commit any errors in getting the other 16 outs.
“I love playing defense when Clark is pitching good,” Golberg said. “Not a lot of balls are hit solid.”
Golberg doubled in Sam Walker with two outs in the top of the third, then came home on a run-scoring single from Bryant in the top of the third to make it 3-0. That play was originally scored an error, but some 10 minutes later, the official scorekeeper at the stadium switched it to a hit.
Bryant and the rest of the Chieftains called it generous, but, again, after the year they have had, they will take it.
Five key Columbia River players — including their top two pitchers coming into the season — missed all or most of the spring. The Chieftains had to rally to tie for a league title with Mountain View and Kelso, then got the No. 3 seed for the district tournament and had to take a tougher road to make it to the state round of 16.
The Chieftains reached the elite eight last year, losing in the regional finals.
“We’re one step closer to where we want to be,” Bryant said.
“That was one of our goals, to go back and redeem ourselves from last year,” Golberg added. “It feels good, knowing we have a chance to do that.”
While there ended up being no need for more offense Saturday, Columbia River secured the victory with a six-run sixth inning. The Chieftains got hits by Bryson Oury and Tyler Jacobs and also took advantage of four walks and an error in the frame. Golberg drove in his third run of the game with a bases-loaded walk.
“It was nice to have that sixth inning to relieve some of the pressure,” River coach Stephen Donohue said.
Donohue said the result was not surprising. He and his staff had a scouting report on Shelton.
“I felt confident if we played well and Clark threw well, we’d take care of business,” he said.
All of that happened, and the Chieftains have another weekend of baseball to book on their 2013 schedule.