YAKIMA — The Chimacum Cowboys are back at the top.
The Cowboys beat Tenino 8-4 to win the Class 1A baseball state championship for the second time in five years Saturday.
“You don’t see a group of kids like this very often,” Chimacum coach Jim Dunn said.
Chimacum has placed at state four times in the past five years, winning it all in 2007, claiming third in 2009 and second last year. This time, the Cowboys (24-2 overall) finished the job at County Stadium.
“It feels great to win it all,” Dunn, a first-year head coach, said. “A big weight has been taken off the shoulders of these kids.”
“The pressure to win state has been on the backs of everyone’s mind.”
Chimacum has been ranked first since the beginning of the season despite having just two seniors on the roster.
Dunn, a long-time assistant coach to the baseball program, said he felt fortunate to inherit the Cowboys program from long-time head coach Loren Bishop.
“I got thrown into a good situation,” Dunn said.
“When you have good pitching and great defense, you will be in games.”
Expect the Cowboys to be in every game next year, too, Dunn said.
“We’ll do it again next year,” Dunn said.
It’s hard to argue that.
After all, the Cowboys will be a senior-dominated team next spring led by three-time Nisqually League MVP Landon Cray (9-1), also the winning pitcher in the state title game.
“It was like yesterday, but I remember when we were playing Orting three years ago,” Dunn said.
“The Orting coach intentionally walked Landon and as Landon was walking to first base, the coach said to him, ‘Yeah, I know you’re a freshman.’
“I wouldn’t trade Landon for any other player in the state. He’s mine.”
Cray had one bad inning against Tenino in the title game, striking out 13 with one walk, five hits and three earned runs in seven innings.
For the first time this year Cray did not get a hit in a game. But he scored two runs after being walked twice.
Austin McConnell, who also will be a senior next year, carried the big bat Saturday. He went 3-for-4 with a triple and three RBIs.
“Austin was huge for us,” Dunn said. “He had a great game.”
No. 9 Michael Nordberg also had a strong game at the plate. He had a double, and RBI and scored a run.
The Cowboys escaped a seventh-inning scare to hold on for a 6-4 victory over Bellevue Christian in Friday’s semifinals at County Stadium.
Cray struck out the Vikings No. 3 hitter with the bases loaded and two outs to earn the save and put the Cowboys in the 1A title game for the second year in a row.
“They were excited,” Dunn said. “They are pretty even-keel kids, though. They’ve been here before. They know what it’s going to take to win.”
If it wasn’t for his own heroics Friday, Cray may have never had a chance to get into the title game.
After going 3-for-4 at the plate with a double, triple and two runs scored — including the first run in a pivotal fifth-inning rally — the junior left-hander took the hill in the top of the seventh with two outs and Chimacum ahead 6-4.
With one man already on first base and the tying run at the plate, Cray gave up an infield single and a walk to load the bases.
He then struck out Bellevue Christian’s Ryan Fitzpatrick on three straight pitches to end the threat and the game.
McConnell earned the win after going 2 2/3 innings in relief of starter Quinn Eldridge.
The junior right-hander entered the game after Bellevue Christian scored two runs each in the third and fourth innings off Eldridge to take a 4-3 lead.
McConnell retired the next eight batters in a row.
“He kept us in the game in the middle there,” Dunn said. “He pretty much mowed through their order.”
The Cowboys re-took the lead in the bottom of the fifth with a three-run rally sparked by Cray’s lead-off double.
Devin Manix singled him in, stole second base and eventually scored the go-ahead run after Bellevue’s catcher overthrew the third baseman on another Manix stolen base attempt.
The senior finished 2-for-3 with two stolen bases and two runs scored, while Brown-Bishop was 2-for-3 with a double.
McConnell scored the third run of the fifth inning on a passed ball.
“That’s what happens when you put wheels in motion,” Dunn said.
“[Manix] is fast on the bases. He’s just a pest when he gets on there because he doesn’t stay in the same place.”
He is also one of two seniors who will be moving on, Dylan Brown-Bishop being the other.
“We will be losing two key players,” Dunn said.
Chimacum 8, Tenino 4
Tenino 1 0 0 0 3 0 0 — 4 5 4
Chimacum 3 2 1 1 1 0 x — 8 9 1
WP- Cray (9-1)
Chimacum: Cray 7IP, 13K, BB, 5H, 3ER.
Chimacum: Cray 2BB, 2R; McConnell 3-4, 3B, 3RBIs; Manix 2R; Brown-Bishop 1-3; Cornachione 2-4; Nordberg 2B, RBI, R.
Chimacum 6, Bellevue Christian 4
Bellevue Chr. 0 0 2 2 0 0 0 — 4 7 2
Chimacum 2 1 0 0 3 0 x — 6 9 0
WP- McConnell (4-1); LP- JoJo Howie; S- Cray (2)
Bellevue Christian: Howie 5IP, 9K, BB, 9H, 6R, 5ER; DeKlerk IP.
Chimacum: Eldridge 4IP, 2K, BB, 6H, 4ER; McConnell 2.2IP, 4K, 0R 0H, BB; Cray 0.1IP, K, BB, H, 0R.
Bellevue Christian: Howie 2-3; Coyle 2-3.
Chimacum: Cray 3-4, 2B, 3B, 2R, RBI; Manix 2-3, 2SB, RBI, 2R; Eldridge 1-3, 2B, RBI; Brown-Bishop 2-3, 2B; Cornachione 1-2, R.