CHEHALIS — Timing is everything for the Columbia River baseball team.
Struggling for much of the season, the Chieftains are playing their best right now.
They needed to, as well, Saturday going up against a pitcher, a team, that had dominated the Chieftains in the regular season.
But in a postseason elimination game, the program with playoff experience got it done.
Dakota Mason struck out 10 in five shutout innings, and Columbia River topped Hockinson 4-1 in the Class 2A District 4 tournament.
The win sends Columbia River to the regional round of state for the sixth consecutive season and eighth in the past nine.
“Ever since I was young, I was ready to play for River,” Mason said. “Feels great to keep it going.”
“We were the 4 seed, and everyone expected us to lose anyway,” senior Gavin Manheimer added. “We expected to win.”
The Chieftains went 0-2 against 2A Greater St. Helens League champion Hockinson in the regular season, failing to score in two games against pitcher Mitch Lines. River had to face Lines again on this day.
“That felt good,” River coach Stephen Donohue said. “Lines has owned us.”
Instead, it was Mason who pitched around trouble with all of his strikeouts, putting up five zeroes on the scoreboard.
“Whenever we have Dakota on the mound, I expect to win,” Manheimer said. “He’s the absolute guy.”
A double and two walks loaded the bases in the top of the first inning, but Mason got his first strikeout of the game to end the threat.
“The key today was to keep my confidence up and not let the walks get to me,” Mason said. “I have a very good defense behind me. That definitely helps. Everyone was hyped. That kept my confidence up. Just go out and do what I do.”
Escaping that first-inning jam gave the Chieftains a lift.
“That’s the best feeling ever. I loving coming in after a big moment, getting the strikeout,” Mason said. “Go in there with a good mood, a good vibe.”
The Chieftains would load the bases in their half of the first inning, and delivered.
Brian Rice hit a sacrifice fly and Manheimer hit a hard single up the middle to drive in another run.
Manheimer acknowledged his hit was a mistake.
“I tried to call timeout, but (the umpire) didn’t give it to me, so I just hit it,” he said. “I’m happy he didn’t give me time.”
A strong start was just what Donohue asked from the Chieftains.
“We’ve been playing from behind a lot. We wanted to jump on them early,” the coach said. “When we got up, that got us relaxed a little bit. We started executing.”
Paul Meister hit a sac fly in the second inning for a 3-0 lead.
Pinch runner Shawn Sadler scored the fourth run, taking advantage of two errors on one play in the fifth inning as the Hawks tried to pick him off at second base.
Hockinson avoided the shutout when Noah Stecher led off the seventh inning with a home run.
The Hawks were trying to advance to state for the first time since 2009. Instead, they will have to settle with their league championship.
Lines finished with seven strikeouts. He did not give up a hit after the second inning.
Columbia River, in its first year in Class 2A, has been a qualifier in the 3A state tournament the previous five seasons.
River was lucky to get its game played Saturday in Chehalis. The rest of the day’s schedule was rained out. Columbia River will play the winner of Black Hills-Centralia on Monday in Chehalis to determine state seeding. A win in Monday’s game would send River to the Centralia Regional, while a loss will send the Chieftains to the Auburn Regional.
COLUMBIA RIVER 4, HOCKINSON 1
Hockinson 000 000 1—1 5 3
Col. River 210 010 x—4 5 1
Pitcher — Mitch Lines 6 IP, loss, 7 Ks. Highlights — Matt Henry 1-2, 2B; Noah Stecher 2-3, HR, RBI; Brooks Dyer 1-3; Jake Beslanowitch 1-2.
Pitcher — Dakota Mason 5 IP, win, 10 Ks; Kade Gerlack 2 IP. Highlights — Royce Cone 2-3; Sam Jacobs 1-2; Brian Rice 0-2, RBI; Gavin Manheimer 1-3, RBI; Shawn Craig 1-3; Paul Meister 0-0, RBI.