Stevenson pitches Stars to titleOn to California for the state champs.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 7:49 PM
"WALLA WALLA - A 5-1 nightcap victory over Mill Creek - in a second and final game forced by Mill Creek's 10-1 win over Bainbridge two hours earlier - gave the island's Little League All-Stars their first-ever state Majors title Tuesday.With the triumph, Bainbridge advances to the Western Region Little League Tournament in San Bernardino, Calif.. The squad opens play at 5 p.m. today against Montana's state champion, Billings Big Sky. The regional 16-team tournament is one of four nationwide, and the winners of each will move on to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.It feels great, said Bainbridge manager Don French, who also coached a squad of 9- and 10-year-olds that defeated Mill Creek for a state championship in 1998.The kids were focused, hung tough, and did the things they were supposed to do. They are the most talented team I've ever coached.Don't overlook the talent of French and his coaches, either.Bainbridge had won four straight games in the tournament, including a 7-0 victory over Mill Creek, heading into Tuesday night's play in the double-elimination event. The boys in blue needed just one win; Mill Creek needed a doubleheader sweep.French and his coaches, Dick Henshaw and Greg Stevenson, had ample opportunity to size up Mill Creek's pitching depth before the first championship game. They saw that Mill Creek had one unhittable pitcher - manager's son Cam Nobles - and several other arms that weren't bad but weren't overpowering.Knowing that Mill Creek manager Steve Nobles had to pitch his son in the opener to ensure his team would be alive for a nightcap, Bainbridge's braintrust knew that a first-game loss was likely. They battled hard against Nobles, who throws a 79-mph fastball and a lunge-in-the-dirt curve, but managed only one hit - an infield squibber by Nash Hensen, who managed to score on an error and two wild pitches.Nobles settled down, however, boosted by a pair of two-run home runs by teammate Chris Lynch, and wound up with his third tournament win. He recorded all 18 Bainbridge outs by strikeout, and ended the tournament with 50 ticket-punches in 18 innings pitched.Ace in the holeEssentially conceding the first game enabled French to unveil his own ace, Robbie Stevenson. Stevenson had recorded two previous victories, including a two-hit, nine-strikeout masterpiece over Mill Creek four days earlier.The gambit worked to near-perfection as Stevenson, cool under pressure, clipped Mill Creek's wings with a three-hit, 12-strikeout stunner in the nightcap.He is a very mentally tough pitcher, French said. He's not our strongest, but mentally he's our No. 1 pitcher.The two teams traded zeros for three innings, then Bainbridge broke through in the fourth when Coby Gibler got aboard first on an error by the Mill Creek third baseman. Hensen bunted for a single, sending pinch-runner Tal Glass to second, and Peter Huisinga was hit by a pitch to load the bases.Fleet-footed Peter Leslie followed with an infield single that scored Glass, and Hensen scooted home on a wild pitch by Mill Creek's Jake Gelakoska for a 2-0 Bainbridge lead. Rudy Sharar walked to re-load the bases, forcing manager Nobles to replace his pitcher.Michael Heald, who was sidelined with a foot injury before district tournament play began three weeks ago, was activated before the game and came to the plate after Sharar for his first All-Star at-bat. He coaxed a walk out of reliever Jamie Eisinger to force in Huisinga for a 3-0 Bainbridge lead, as more than 50 Bainbridge family members and friends cheered from the stands.Stevenson made his only mistake in the bottom of the fourth, when Lynch hit his third home run of the day, a leadoff solo shot. And he appeared to be in trouble when Gelakoska followed with a single to center.Then the 12-year-old simply slammed the door shut.He struck out Nobles, one of the tournament's better longball hitters, then induced the next batter to ground into a neatly turned double play - Sharar to Leslie to first baseman Taurean Yamada.Bainbridge got all the insurance it needed in the team's next at-bat.Using a bit of two-out Seattle Mariners magic, Huisinga singled to center and Leslie followed with a base hit to right-center. Sharar, struggling offensively for most of the tournament, followed with a two-strike stroke to right, plating both Peters in what French called the hit of the game.Stevenson, working a two-strike curveball to perfection, recorded the last six Mill Creek outs via the strikeout. And the second he slipped his last sinker past Gelakoska for the final out, the team erupted around him.I knew I had to throw strikes, and I had a lot of confidence in everything, Stevenson said. And now...I can't even explain it. All I know is that I'm just really happy.And as for what comes next?I think we can still hit better, he said, and if we do, I think we can go to the World Series. "