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Columbia River baseball sheds its kryptonite to land 2A regional berth

After past attempts came up short, Rapids defeat W.F. West in district semifinals

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
15 Photos
Columbia River junior Austin Habets, left, celebrates with senior Henry Palmersheim after scoring a run Wednesday, May 11, 2022, during the Rapids’ 9-4 win against W.F. West in a 2A district semifinal game at the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex.
Columbia River junior Austin Habets, left, celebrates with senior Henry Palmersheim after scoring a run Wednesday, May 11, 2022, during the Rapids’ 9-4 win against W.F. West in a 2A district semifinal game at the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — Revenge is a dish best served with a late-inning rally, against a team that has had the upper hand for several years running.

Or something like that.

For Columbia River baseball, W.F. West has been the team’s kryptonite, head coach Stephen Donohue says, the one that stubbornly stood in its way in the postseason.

Last year, W.F. West won by walk-off, 5-4, in the Class 2A district semifinals. In 2018, W.F. West walked off River 2-1 in the district quarterfinals. In 2017, another W.F. West walk-off win sunk River in the 2A regional finals.

“I have a lot of respect for (W.F. West coach) Bryan (Bullock) and his program,” Donohue said. “We’ve had some absolute wars, for sure.”

Yet as the Rapids prepare for another postseason run, they can now say they’ve accomplished something previous teams didn’t: beating the Bearcats.

14 Photos
Columbia River junior Austin Habets, left, celebrates with senior Henry Palmersheim after scoring a run Wednesday, May 11, 2022, during the Rapids’ 9-4 win against W.F. West in a 2A district semifinal game at the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex.
Baseball: W.F. West at Columbia River Photo Gallery

With a Class 2A regional berth, as well as a trip to the district championship game at stake, after River’s 9-4 comeback win over W.F. West on Wednesday, the Rapids could say with absolute certainty it carried some extra meaning.

“Absolutely,” said senior Casey Struckmeier. “Last year’s game was rough. We were pretty tight with them until the end, and then they broke it open. This game, we broke it open late game and it felt so good. It’s very exciting.”

Struckmeier was one of several holdovers from last year’s team who knew how it felt losing in heartbreaking fashion on the postseason stage.

The majority of this River team, however, weren’t playing varsity last year and thus, didn’t share that experience. When the pressure amplified Wednesday, several of them rose to the occasion.

To begin the sixth inning, sophomore Zach Zeibell came on in relief of Struckmeier, who tallied 10 strikeouts in five innings of work. Following a four-run fifth inning for the Bearcats, Zeibell promptly outed three straight batters, two via strikeouts.

That led to the bottom half of the sixth, the inning when the Rapids shook off their kryptonite.

Starting off with a walk and a double by junior Kaden MacDonald, sophomore Cole Backlund followed by knocking in two runs to tie the game at 4-4.

“I wasn’t even thinking, I was just like, ‘Man, I just want to do good,’” Backlund said. “And it happened. I got the pitch and it felt good.”

Junior Austin Habets delivered the go-ahead RBI three batters later, then after River loaded the bases, senior Sam Boyle launched a two-run double to deep left field to give the Rapids an important cushion. A couple bases-loaded walks increased the advantage.

By the time it was over, 13 River batters saw the plate during the inning.

“It just starts off with our team captains, Casey, Sam and Adam (Deeney),” Backlund said. “They really help us out with the energy, just throughout the game, and I think that really helps us out later with a bunch of clutch hits (from) everybody on the team. I just thought Casey, Sam and Adam really helped out with the energy and leading us.”

The win gives River the opportunity to play for the district championship against Tumwater on Friday evening at the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex. More importantly, the Rapids will be playing on to regionals and are in position to make a run. With Wednesday’s win, it will be the seventh time in the last 10 seasons the team has reached this point.

“We’re playing good baseball, we’ve been playing well for a while, but this is a huge win for us, for sure,” Donohue said. “We’re going to give it our best shot on Friday, but our whole thing in our program is, we just want to get in and give ourselves our opportunity. We’ve been able to do that a lot over the years.”

W.F. West can also still advance to regionals, but will have to wait until Saturday to play Mark Morris in a winner-to-regional, loser-out game.

The Monarchs topped Hockinson 7-6 in a loser-out game Wednesday after giving up four unanswered runs in the third inning, only to come back shortly after.

A fifth-inning passed ball gave Mark Morris the lead for good, 5-4, and Austin Lindquist delivered a two-run double later in the inning.

In the other winner-to-regional, loser-out game Saturday, Ridgefield’s 3-2 win over Hudson’s Bay on Wednesday advanced the Spudders to face Shelton.

Matthew Kinswa limited Bay to three hits while throwing 10 strikeouts in a complete-game effort, and leadoff hitter Reed Fry went 2-for-3 with a double.

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