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2A district baseball: Nate Little’s walk-off RBI single gives Columbia River state-clinching win over Tumwater

Rapids advance to district championship with 6-5 semifinal win over defending state champion Thunderbirds

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 8, 2024, 9:03pm

RIDGEFIELD — When a two-run lead slipped through their grasp in the seventh inning, the Columbia River baseball team didn’t have time to dwell.

The Rapids were three outs away from defeating Tumwater in Wednesday’s District 4 semifinal game at Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex, until the two-time defending Class 2A state champion Thunderbirds roared back with three runs to reclaim a one-run lead.

River answered in the bottom half with a Nate Little RBI single to force extra innings. A whole new game. Between innings, the Rapids tried to refocus in their dugout.

“We just said, ‘Lock in. Everyone get focused, get up off the bench, get on the fence,'” River junior Harrison Hoffarth said. “Everyone’s in the game, even the guys on the bench are doing the most to contribute to the team.”

After relief pitcher Charlie Palmersheim forced three quick outs in the top of the eighth, the Rapids got two runners on with two outs. Tumwater intentionally walked Zayne Boyes and Hoffarth, but left on Little, and the junior made the Thunderbirds pay.

Little drove a base hit to right field, pinch runner Tommy Blau slid head-first into home and the Rapids secured a 6-5 win to advance to Saturday’s district championship, in addition to clinching a 2A state regional berth.

“Before my (at-bat), my coach came up to me and said, ‘They’re going to walk Harry. You’re going to be the man to do it.'” Little recalled. “I said right back to him, ‘I’m gonna do it.'”

Little’s confidence was indicative of how a veteran Rapids team with 14 seniors felt during a pressure-packed moment. They’ve experienced practically every situation before, and despite that seventh-inning gut punch, they didn’t allow themselves to fold.

“We’ve all pretty much experienced games like this before,” Palmersheim said. “We’ve had close games with Ridgefield, (Mark) Morris, so this is really just — this is what we do.”

Palmersheim was called in to pitch to begin the fifth inning in place of junior Noah Coakes, who gave up six hits and two earned runs over four innings, and was on the mound when the Rapids grabbed their first lead in the bottom half.

River scored a tying run thanks to a Tumwater throwing error that gave Palmersheim a lane to score. Hoffarth then drilled a two-out RBI double to the warning track and scored on a Little RBI single as River took a 4-2 lead to the final two innings.

Little led River with three hits and two RBI, while Hoffarth and Peter Lubisich each added two hits.

River’s lead stood until the seventh when Tumwater scored two runs with two outs in a River error to first base. The Thunderbirds took a 5-4 lead on a Liam Karlson RBI single. After the game, River coaches told players they still have a lot to clean up before next week’s 2A state regional round.

“Toward the middle of the game, our energy in that dugout kind of just died,” Little said. “If we just keep battling, keep fighting, keep that energy up in the dugout, I think we can do it.”

The Rapids were among the youngest team in the district last season when they missed state after losing back-to-back games to Tumwater and Mark Morris in the district playoffs. Their last run to state playoff run in 2022 ended in a runner-up finish to that same Thunderbirds team in the 2A state championship game. Players who were part of that team relished the opportunity to return the favor on Wednesday.

“All 14 of us (seniors), at least 10 of us were in that game against Tumwater,” Palermsheim said, “so we all kind of played with a chip on our shoulder today. This win feels really good for us.”

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When River coach Stephen Donohue announced after the game he planned to give the team a rare day off Thursday, several players’ jaws dropped.

How do they plan to spend it?

“We’re excited about that,” Palmersheim said. “Maybe a little pool day?”

“I’m going to the (batting) cages,” Hoffarth countered. “I’m staying on it.”

“Sounds good to me,” Little said.

Saturday’s district championship game against W.F. West will be played at the RORC at 5 p.m.

W.F. WEST 8, RIDGEFIELD 0 — Bearcats starting pitcher Cole Ozretich shut down the Spudders’ bats in a complete-game shutout, allowing just two hits with nine strikeouts and two walks in the 2A district semifinals.

While W.F. West advances to play Columbia River in Saturday’s district championship, Ridgefield will face Mark Morris at 2 p.m. Saturday at the RORC for a berth to the 2A state tournament.

Connor Coleman hit a solo home run and had an RBI double, while Deacon Meller and Grady Westlund each had two hits and one RBI to pace the Bearcats.

Coleman’s blast to right field in the second inning was part of an early surge that saw W.F. West score three runs across the first two innings and prompted Ridgefield to look to its bullpen in the third inning.

After Ridgefield’s Nate Olmos hit a two-out double in the fourth, Ozretich retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced.

The loss snapped a nine-game win streak for the Spudders that began April 12.

MARK MORRIS 2, SHELTON 1 — Ryder Harris scored the go-ahead run on an error in the top of the seventh, then Jackson Rohl threw out the potential tying run at third base to end the game, sending the Monarchs to a winner-to-state game in the 2A district tournament.

Harris opened the top of the seventh with a walk for the Monarchs and then he was sacrificed over to second base. Evan Peters hit a groundball to shortstop, which led to an error that allowed Harris to score the go-ahead run.

In the bottom of the seventh, Bradley Eveland of Shelton drew a two-out walk. Wyatt Wagner then singled to left. When Eveland tried to advance to third, Rohl threw him out to end the game.

Austin Lindquist pitched a complete game for the Monarchs, allowing four hits.

R.A. LONG 12, ROCHESTER 3 — Nick Niday had a double, triple and five RBI and Reece Grothoff went 3 for 3 as the Lumberjacks won a loser-out game in the 2A district tournament.

R.A. Long will face Tumwater at 11 a.m. Saturday in a winner-to-state game at the RORC.

Riley Young and Mitchell Lindsey each went 2 for 3 with two RBI for R.A. Long.