BY ETHAN LILLARD
WASHINGTON- Coming into Tuesday night’s Class 2A Substate championship game, Central Lee knew it was going to be going up against Wilton’s ace in University of Iowa commit Jared Townsend. Townsend held a .29 ERA to go with a dominate 9-0 record entering the contest.
The Hawks forced Wilton to pull Townsend from the mound in the top of the fourth inning, as they had already collected five hits and four walks off the Iowa commit and had the bases loaded with a 5-0 lead.
Wilton’s pitching didn’t improve after Townsend was pulled, as Central Lee collected four runs in the second inning and 10 in the fourth, winning by the final of 14-0 and advancing to the state tournament for the first time since 1998.
“I don’t think they think we play a very good brand of baseball down here,” Central Lee Head Coach Shane Weirather said. “I think we’re a damn good team, but I think it almost plays into this team’s psyche a little bit that we’re kind of the underdog.
“Definitely coming into Wilton, nine seniors, ranked all year, they thought we were the underdog. They knew the perception was that we were the underdog. We knew we could do this.”
While he may not have received the publicity like Townsend, Central Lee’s starting pitcher Tuesday in Waylon Weirather also came in sporting a sub one ERA and had a sparkling record of 8-1.
“Our pitcher’s actually going to Iowa, too,” the head coach said. “He’s going to be an electrical engineer.”
Waylon Weirather, along with his teammates, felt zero pressure in the fact they were going against one of the top-ranked teams in the state with one of the best pitchers in the state.
“We’re never intimidated,” Waylon Weirather said. “We know this kid’s a very good pitcher, but we’re never intimidated by anybody. It’s respect. We know what to prepare for, we know what we’re going to see.”
GOING TO STATE
The game started as many may have expected with a three-up, three-down top of the first. Wilton then came to the plate in the bottom of the first and loaded the bases on two singles and a walk with just one out. Keeping his cool and doing what he has been doing his whole baseball career, Weirather forced a fly out and a groundout as Wilton stranded the bases loaded.
“Wonderful start by Waylon,” Shane Weirather said. “Let’s not forget the bases loaded in the first inning that Waylon pitched out of. That’s a tremendous lineup.”
Weirather navigating out of the jam sparked the Hawks’ offense in the top of the second. Luke Simmons started the frame with a walk before Jadon Hawk singled. Alex Sandoval then hit a blooper down the right field line. Wilton right fielder Brayton Wade ran up and attempted a diving grab, but the ball got past him as both runners on base scored and Sandoval found himself at third.
After back-to-back strikeouts, TJ Stutes singled in Sandoval for the 3-0 lead. Tyler Hopp followed with a single of his own, scoring Stutes after he was able to steal second base during Hopp’s at bat for the 4-0 lead.
Weirather walked the first batter in the bottom of the second inning, but a great play at third by Dylan Stuecker led to a double play adding to the Central Lee momentum. A singled followed the double play, but Weirather forced the next batter into a groundout to end the threat.
Central Lee went three-up, three-down in the top of the third before putting together one of the biggest innings in school history.
Hawk led the inning off with a single, before three-straight walks brought him in for a 5-0 lead, prompting Wilton to pull its ace.
Cory Anderson came on in relief, but quickly walked Stutes for another run, giving Central Lee a 6-0 lead. Wilton was finally able to record it’s first out in the next at bat, but Central Lee still had just one out and the bases loaded.
Sam Hirner then hit a hard grounder to short, that was bobbled by Colin McCrabb leaving Hirner safe at first with another run coming across the board for 7-0 lead.
The error was first of many that would hamper Wilton in the fourth inning.
KJ Skow followed suit, hitting another sharp grounder to short that was again mishandled by McCrabb, this time bringing two runs to push the lead to 9-0. Simmons followed with a single to plate Hirner, before a Hawk single loaded the bases again having batted around, still with just one out.
Sandoval tested Wilton’s 3rd baseman Ashton Stoelk with another hard hit grounder and Stoelk committed the third error of the inning, plating Skow for an 11-0 lead. The Hawks walked in another run before Stuecker hit a ball over the head of the second baseman to bring in two more runs and make it a 14-0 game.
“There used to getting a lot of outs by strikeouts,” Shane Weirather said. “I think that kind of showed in their fielding. I think we put a lot of pressure on people. Not just being kind of mouthy, but also by running the bases well and just putting the ball in play. Several times I think we had two strikes and just continued to put the ball in play. Good things happen when you do that.”
Waylon Weirather went back to work in the home-half of the fourth, retiring the side after facing just four batters.
The Hawks went three-up, three-down to start the fifth, but were just three outs away from the win with the 14-0 lead.
Wilton started the bottom of the fifth with a single. Weirather forced a bloop pop out to third for out No. 1, before Hopp came up with a phenomenal diving grab in centerfield for out No. 2. Weirather then forced the next hitter into a groundout, putting the game away to give Central Lee the win and advance the Hawks to the state tournament for the first time since 1998.
“It feels great,” Shane Weirather said after the win. “All these people here, we’ve always traveled well, they travel well, they deserve it. The kids have put in so much work here. They deserve this.
“This senior class has been the best bunch of leaders I have ever seen, that I’ve coached. The rest of them followed along and they’re tremendous, they deserve it, I’m so happy for these kids and this community. They are having a great time.”
One of the senior captains, Hopp, nearly missed Tuesday’s championship game after having something jammed into his foot while on the river causing swelling and an infection that got into his bloodstream.
“I was going to have to have surgery yesterday,” Hopp said. “But they went in and the antibiotics were working. The infection got in my blood stream, but they got it and the antibiotics worked. I’m so thankful for that. It’s crazy to be a part of this.”
Sandoval led the way at the plate for the Hawks with 3 RBI, while Dylan Stueker and KJ Skow each collected two RBI. Hopp, Hirner, Simmons, Stutes and Evan Pohren each had a single RBI.
Weirather tossed 85 pitches for the five-inning complete game, allowing just four hits and no earned runs. Weirather collected four strikeouts and walked four batters.
For the senior pitcher, he couldn’t have asked for anything more, well, except maybe what is possibly to come in the not-so-distant future.
“I could never ask for anything more, except for a state championship,” Weirther said.