WARRENTON Rainier and Valley Catholic may have finished 1-2 in the Lewis & Clark League baseball standings, but as the regular season came to a close Friday, the only team playing like a league champion is the same team that won it last year the Warrenton Warriors.
The Valiants came into Fridays doubleheader at Huddleston Field with a one-game lead in the league standings, needing only a split to secure the leagues No. 1 seed and an automatic berth to the state playoffs.
But Lennie Wolfes Warriors played like the defending league champs they are, as they took down Valley Catholic twice, 3-0 and 7-6.
In a four-day span, Warrenton went a combined 3-1 in doubleheaders against the Columbians and the Valiants to finish 10-5 in league play, behind Rainier and Valley Catholic.
The Warriors still have work to do to gain a state playoff berth, but Wolfe likes his teams chances.
Were doing some awfully good things now, Wolfe said. I wish wed started a week earlier.
We went 8-2 the second half of the season, after a 2-3 to start, he said. Early in the year when we needed to get outside and play games the weather didnt help us. Were coming into form late, but better late than never.
Warrenton will now host Clatskanie in a league playoff at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, with the loser out and the winner advancing to play at Valley Catholic Thursday for the leagues second and final seed to state.
That all bodes well for the Warriors, who went a combined 3-0 against the Tigers and the Valiants over the last week.
We have to do a good job of arm management in the next three days, Wolfe said. Josh Biel (winner of both games Friday) came up really big today, over and over.
The pitchers took center stage in Game 1.
Valley Catholic sophomore Carter Buuck and Biel battled through three scoreless innings before the Warriors manufactured a run in the fourth.
Jimmy Bentley reached on a leadoff bunt, took second on a sacrifice bunt by Bradd Lundberg, stole third and scored on a one-out grounder by Luke Wilson.
The Valiants who had seven very untimely errors on the day committed two errors in the sixth that resulted in two Warrior runs.
Biel had a leadoff single and took second when Bentley reached on an error.
A passed ball advanced both runners, and Biel scored on a squeeze bunt by Wilson. An errant throw to first on the play allowed Bentley to score, and that would be more than enough for Biel.
The junior right-hander allowed an infield single in the second inning and an infield hit in the sixth, and that was it. He walked three, with six strikeouts.
Game 2 turned into a much closer battle. Valley Catholic, meanwhile, showed that a team can hit five home runs in one game and still lose.
Warrenton scored three runs in their first at-bat on base hits by Cole Jensen, Brock Johnson, Biel, Bentley, Lundberg and Wilson before a Valiant double play ended the inning.
Valley Catholic answered with solo home runs by Liam Meagher and Nick Quandt in the top of the second.
Warrenton made it 4-2 in the third as Biel walked to leadoff, reached third on an error and scored on a single by Lundberg.
Meagher belted a leadoff homer in the top of the fourth and the Warriors responded with a run-scoring single by Johnson in the bottom half of the inning for a 5-3 lead.
The Valiants tied it in the fifth on a solo homer from Clay Kemper and a run-scoring single by Meagher.
Buuck retook the mound for Valley Catholic in the fourth and struck out the side in the fifth.
But it was two crucial errors on the same play that provided Warrenton with the winning runs.
Ben Bergerson drew a one-out walk and pinch-runner Kyle Lopez took second on a wild pitch.
Jensen sent a slow roller down the third base line and the throw to first was wild, allowing Lopez to score from second.
Jensen, meanwhile, rounded second and headed to third, where the Valiants threw it away again, allowing Jensen to score on the infield grounder.
Jackson Neff hit Valleys fifth home run of the day in the top of the seventh, but Biel who had re-entered as pitcher in the fifth retired the final two batters in order.
We were going to do whatever we had to do and throw whoever we had to throw, Wolfe said. I really didnt anticipate bringing Josh back in, until it got close at the end.
The guys did a great job, he added. At the plate, Cole had a great day, and what a heads-up play at the end, to score that last run.
The Valiants five home runs were impressive, but all came with no runners on base.
They are mashing it, Wolfe said. Thats a very good team, and I hope we get the opportunity to play them on Thursday. Clatskanies a very good team, too. Our league is pretty tough the top four, going for two spots.