|Eastern Regional Champions|
Just two short weeks ago, the Hanford Falcons were the No. 4 team in the CBBN 3A and playing .500 ball.
Now, after Saturday's 6-3 win over No. 1 Southridge, they are the sub-regional champions and will carry a top seed into next weekend's first round of state play.
Dan Scheibe's fortuitous double with two out in the top of the eighth inning created the winning margin. But it was his Herculean, 140-pitch overtime effort on the mound that carried the Falcons to their first win over Southridge this season.
"That was huge," Hanford senior catcher Chris Synoground said. "It felt amazing. I love beating these guys.
"Nothing's better than this. I know for a fact this is the best league in the state, hands down."
And now the Falcons (14-11) will carry the No. 1 seed into next Saturday's regional round of state games. Hanford faces the No. 5 seed from the KingCo/Metro leagues, which will be determined Tuesday.
That leaves Southridge (19-3) with a familiar foe, facing a first-round matchup with Kamiakin (20-5) after the Braves hammered University 8-0 earlier in the day at Southridge. Kamiakin starter Garrett Anderson faced just two over the minimum and improved to 11-0.
"This wasn't just a game for the (sub-regional) championship. It's seeding," Scheibe said. "That's big. They have to face Kamiakin. They have to face Garrett Anderson, and Kamiakin has to face Southridge."
The regional is slated to be played at Spokane's Avista Stadium. However, with three Tri-Cities team and one from the west side, it is likely to be moved to the Tri-Cities.
It looked like Hanford might have had that date with Kamiakin after the Suns loaded the bases in the seventh.
AJ Henderson led off the frame with a walk before Scheibe got the next two batters to pop up. Spencer O'Neil then drilled the first pitch he saw into center, and the Falcons gave Bryce Jackson an intentional free pass to load 'em up.
That brought up Oz Bartleson, who homered twice in the Suns' playoff win over Kamiakin on Tuesday.
This time, he looped a ball into shallow right that seemed a certain game-winner. But Falcons second baseman Ryan Neal tracked the ball -- held up just a bit by a stiff breeze blowing in -- and hauled it in over his shoulder before niftily dodging a hard-charging Trevor Jones from right field.
"We're losing this game," Hanford coach Tom DeWitz said he was thinking in the dugout after Bartleson made contact. "Ryan Neal made a great play there, the kind of play you have to make to be regional champion."
Where the Falcons came up with the big play, the Suns failed to make the routine.
Hanford had two on and two out in its half of the eighth when Scheibe stepped to the plate. He took the first pitch from Ty Jackson (7-1) for a ball before hitting a fly deep to left, but playable.
As left fielder Mike McAdie was settling under, his feet slipped out from under him and the ball landed 5 feet away.
Both runs scored, and a throwing error allowed Scheibe to come home all the way from second.
With 127 pitches on Scheibe's arm through seven innings, DeWitz already had made the decision to lift his ace for the bottom of the eighth. But Scheibe had other plans.
"When I got that hit and came home to score, I felt, 'OK, give me the ball and let's take care of it,' " he said.
The result was his third straight complete-game win in the playoffs, evening his record at 6-6.
"I made a joke before the playoffs," Scheibe said. "Everyone has a role on the team, and my role is to lose close games."
Not this time.
As for the Suns, whose faces belied the fact they live to fight another day, coach Tim Sanders said this is one they simply have to put behind them.
"You got to forget about it and tip your hats to them," he said. "I thought Scheibe was tough.
"We had opportunities all over the place to make stuff happen. Unfortunately, our defense -- I don't know."
Hanford 102 000 03 -- 6 11 2
Southridge 001 110 00 -- 3 8 1
Dan Scheibe and Chris Synoground; Bryce Jackson, Ty Jackson (6) and Dallas Jones. Highlights--Scheibe (H) 8IP-8H-2ER-6K-3BB, 2B, 2 RBI; Finn McMichael (H) 2x4, R; Ryan Neal (H) 2x4; AJ Hoskins (H) 2B, 2R; Blake Eastman (H) 2x4, R; Matt Mendenhall (S) 2x4, 2B, RBI, R.