WARRENTON - For the first time in 15 years, the Class 2A state playoffs will take place without the Warrenton Warriors, as the "game of inches" brought an end to one historic streak Thursday afternoon.
Clatskanie's dramatic 9-8 Northwest League playoff win at Huddleston Field snapped a five-game Warrenton win streak and a string of 14 straight state playoff appearances by the Warriors. More importantly, it extended the Tigers' season by at least one more game.
Clatskanie advances to play at Portland Christian Saturday for the league's No. 2 seed to the state playoffs.
The loss was a tough one to take for the Warriors, who rallied twice and picked up a gem of a pitching performance from Tyler Collier, who entered in the third inning and struck out 12 batters with two walks (one intentional).
Collier also belted a leadoff home run in the bottom of the seventh frame to send the game to extra innings.
Three of the four games between the Tigers and Warriors this year were decided in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
Said Warrenton coach Lennie Wolfe after the game: "Barn burners all the time, aren't they?
"It's disappointing, because we did come back so many times," Wolfe said. "But so did Clatskanie. Tyler threw well, it's just unfortunate that we left some runners on here and there, and we didn't quite finish defensively the way we needed to."
Meanwhile, the Tigers nearly got a jump on the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant by staging a little implosion of their own.
Thanks in part to six errors, Clatskanie's 5-0 lead in the third inning went up in smoke, as did its 6-5 lead in the seventh.
Fresh off a big come-from-behind win at Vernonia less than a week ago, the Warriors rallied one more time, loading the bases with two outs in the eighth inning.
With two runs already in, the Warriors couldn't make it three, as Clatskanie turned a close 6-5 force play at third to end the inning.
End of game, end of season, end of streak.
The 14 straight appearances at state are "a lot to be proud of," Wolfe said, "and for this group - as young and inexperienced as we were - to finish 19-7 is pretty significant, too. A season should never be defined by one game. This was a good season and a lot of people did great things."
Clatskanie freshman K.C. Taylor did a few nice things for his team.
His first plate appearance resulted in a two-run homer to left-center field, giving the Tigers a 3-0 lead after two innings.
Taylor had a single in a two-run third inning, and his biggest blast of the day was a solo shot down the left field line that cleared the fence and gave Clatskanie a 7-6 lead to start the eighth inning.
The Warriors had just two errors in the field, the second of which allowed two runners to score with two outs in the top of the eighth, pushing the Tigers' lead to 9-6.
Clatskanie starter Tyler Brace - who would eventually pick up the save - re-entered the game in the bottom of the eighth and walked two to load the bases with two outs.
Warrenton's Michael Davis singled to shallow left field, scoring Cody Mullins to cut Clatskanie's lead to 9-8.
But that's where it stayed as shortstop Kyle Sloderbeck fielded a grounder by Nathan Massey and flipped the ball to third base for the final out.
Warrenton seniors Shane Rudduck and Mullins played key roles in the Warrior comebacks. Mullins drilled a two-run homer (the first of his career) to left in the fifth inning, and Rudduck added a run-scoring double later in the inning to force a 5-5 tie.
From there, the contest turned into a game of pivotal plays.
The Tigers scored on a squeeze bunt in the top of the sixth to grab a 6-5 lead, and a Warrior squeeze play in the bottom half of the inning was snuffed out when Massey was thrown out at the plate.
"The squeeze was the right time to do it, we just didn't put it in the right place," Wolfe said. "Then if I send the runner there at the end (on Davis's hit in the eighth), they were playing real shallow and we're out at the plate ... I don't think there's a whole lot we could have done differently.
"We just didn't finish things," he said. "It's one of those games that if we win it's a team thing, and if we lose it's a team thing."