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Leaguers perched on verge of titleOne more win will push the team on to Southern California.
"WALLA WALLA - To what extent has Bainbridge Island baseball history repeated itself?By the time you hold this newspaper in your hands, Bainbridge's Little League All-Stars will have their answer.Bainbridge, which played in last night's state Majors baseball tournament championship, needed just one win to take the title and trot for airline tickets to Southern California.There, play in the Little League Western Region Tournament - one level shy of the World Series in Williamsport, Pa. - will take place in the city of San Bernardino beginning Saturday.But the win had to come against Mill Creek, which some fans will recall as the team that stretched Bainbridge to its limit in the 1998 state championship among 9- and 10-year-olds.Bainbridge won that one, however, and its 11- and 12-year-old players hoped to have taken another Tuesday - if not in quite as hair-raising fashion as that wild series of games in which Bainbridge won, lost and won again by a single run.Bainbridge nanager Don French and Mill Creek manager Steve Nobles then, as now, lead those two teams. Mill Creek, coming through the losers' bracket by virtue of a 7-0 loss last Friday to Bainbridge, would have had to come back to beat Bainbridge twice - in back-to-back contests last night - to take the championship.I'm sure they'd like to beat us, but this is our day, said French, after his team beat Mill Creek in the third of its four tournament triumphs.We've been a very focused team, and there are still some kids on our team they don't know about.Undefeated, so farBainbridge continued its undefeated run to the title game with a 6-3 win over Greater Richland-Columbia Sunday night, while Mill Creek had to struggle back through the losers' bracket with three straight wins in three straight nights.In Bainbridge's win, Nash Hensen pitched a solid five-plus innings while staking himself to a 3-0 first-inning lead with a three-run blast far over the right-field fence that plated leadoff hitters Robbie Stevenson and Austin Hurt. Hensen gave back two runs to Richland in the third inning, but spared himself more damage by rebounding to strike out the opponent's cleanup hitter with two runners aboard on a 3-2 pitch count.Bainbridge stretched its lead to 4-2 in the fourth when Stevenson's single scored Peter Leslie, who had drawn a leadoff walk. In the bottom half of that inning, Stevenson kept Richland from again drawing to within a run with a perfect throw from deep center-field to nail an opponent runner at third base.Bainbridge got two insurance runs in the sixth and final inning when Leslie scored again on a Stevenson hit, this one a ringing triple to left-center. Stevenson then scored on a wild pitch.Hensen gave up a third run in the sixth, but Coby Gibler came on to shut down Richland's last-gasp threat with three outs, including a game-ending strikeout.Stevenson also figured prominently in Bainbridge's Friday win over Mill Creek, throwing a two-hit complete game in which he also recorded nine strikeouts. Gibler supplied most of the offense, bashing a pair of three-run homers - one a screaming line drive 30 feet beyond the dead-center fence, the other a floating fly ball that tipped off the rightfielder's glove and over the wall.Mill Creek didn't use their No. 1 pitcher, Cam Nobles, against Bainbridge in that game - though he was tabbed to start Tuesday's action. French labeled Nobles as the best young pitcher I've seen at any level in 27 years of coaching, for his poise, command and a 70-plus-mph fastball.Don't think Bainbridge was intimidated by the prospect, however, of playing against such a pitcher - even in a game that was taped by a crew from Fuji Television of Los Angeles for later airing on Tokyo TV (in what appeared to be an offbeat offshoot of the Ichiro-mania sweeping Seattle Mariners fans).I didn't know what to expect coming in here, but I knew we had a good shot, Hensen said. And now I think we can go all the way to Williamsport. "