What started as a picture-perfect, Wednesday afternoon — complete with hundreds of fans at Memorial Field on a bright spring day — quickly turned nightmarish for Sandpoint baseball.
How garish was this nightmare?
Picture nine Lakeland runs, several costly Bulldog mistakes in the infield and would-be rallies limited in a 9-3 loss to Lakeland in the second game of the district playoffs.
“I told the guys afterwards that the loss was on me,” Sandpoint head coach Chase Tigert said. “I thought that we played timid. It was almost like we were afraid to make mistakes. This is the first time that three-quarters of the team has seen that many people watching them play, and I should’ve prepared them better to play with all those eyes on them.”
Staring down elimination, the top-seeded Hawks didn’t back down; six of Lakeland’s nine runs came with two outs.
Lakeland sent a message from the get-go.
Isaac Silva’s shot to center field kicked off the scoring in the first inning, then Justin Dennison — who exacted revenge for giving up 10 runs during Sandpoint’s game one rally — cleared the bases with a hit in the left-center field gap.
Working with a three-run cushion for the rest of the game, Lakeland was playing with house money.
The Hawks were aggressive on the base-paths, stealing second six times and taking three more bags off passed balls to set up runners in scoring position. And their hitters, who were absent for the most part on Monday, attacked the hole often to the tune of 14 hits, four of which went for extra bases.
“It all came down to making routine plays,” Tigert said. “In the first inning, we left a bunch of balls up the middle and we didn’t make the adjustments Combine a couple timely hits and guys who shouldn’t have been on base, and it becomes a three-run deficit.”
When Sandpoint’s offense needed to rally, the same magic shown in Monday’s pair of fifth-inning rallies was absent.
Comeback attempts in the second and third innings looked the most promising. One-out hits from Alex Stockton, Avery Bocksch and Kade MacDonald loaded the bases in the second inning, yet the Bulldogs only managed to send Stockton home on a passed ball.
Then with two on in the third, Anthony Arroyo’s grounder to shortstop nearly turned into a double-play, yet Cameron Garcia rounded the corner to make it 3-2. But with two away, the rally ended as quickly as it began.
Although Caleb Davis limited some of Lakeland’s damage, the Hawks inched further and further away from the Bulldogs until a three-run fifth inning took the game away from Sandpoint. Scoreless innings, littered with “what could have been”-esque at-bats eventually set up Friday’s winner-take-all game.
In a do-or-die situation in the ninth, Brackett’s would-be extra-base hit along the third base line was ruled foul, to the dismay of Sandpoint fans. Then a pitch glanced off his left thigh, yet was only ruled a ball.
The game ended on a double-play on the next at-bat.
“This was a good opportunity,” Tigert said of his young team, most of whom hadn’t faced the pressure of a district playoff game before Wednesday. “Hopefully on Friday we’ll come out and recognize what it feels like to play in these types of situations.”
Sandpoint and Lakeland will play for the 4A District 1 baseball title on Friday at Gorton Field at 4 p.m.
Lakeland 301 131 0 — 9 14 1
Sandpoint 011 100 0 — 3 13 3
W — Harris, 4, 1. Grigg 3, 2. L — Authier, 3, 0. Davis, 3.1, 2. Bailey 0.2, 1.
HITS: Lakeland — Taylor 2, Aragon, Silva 3, Dennison 2, Bell, Clift. 2B — Dennison, Bell, Tierney. 3B — Clift. Sandpoint — Thielbahr, Lehman 2, Stockton 2, Bocksch, MacDonald, Brackett 2, Arroyo, Garcia 2. 2B — Thielbahr.