Titanic pitching efforts lift Lane into NWAC tournament

05/22/2017 12:45

By Jarrid Denney | For The Register-Guard

Lane has leaned on its pitching depth to carry them through the entire baseball season. On Sunday, they won one last arms race to lock up an NWAC tournament berth.

Lane swept Treasure Valley at Titan Field with a 4-0 win followed by another 6-1 victory to advance out of a double-elimination Super Regional and earn a spot in the Northwest Athletic Conference tournament.

The Titans played 36 innings and four games on Saturday and Sunday and gave up just three runs.

“It kind of feels like the monkey off our back a little bit,” Lane coach Josh Blunt said. “We were the preseason No. 1 this year, and I think the expectations were pretty high. We didn’t play very well at times this year. We certainly feel like we have a chance at creating momentum going forward.”

Lane bounced back from an 1-11 start to the year to finish second in the Southern Region and earn the right to host a Super Regional for the fourth consecutive year. They didn’t make it out of the first day of the regional each of the last two years, but Lane brought one of the deepest stables of pitchers in the conference into the weekend. Blunt had the luxury of giving the ball to any of Lane’s five starters who possess ERA’s lower than 2.62.

In the opener, sophomore Kyle Keith tossed eight scoreless innings and struck out five to push the series to a second game. Keith, who has committed to play at Southern Mississippi next year, ran into trouble in the fifth and sixth innings, but struck out Treasure Valley batters to end the inning each time.

“Dominant,” Blunt said. “(Treasure Valley coach Dave Nakama) said he’s the best guy they’ve seen all year. He had no business pitching at a junior college. We ran some really good pitchers out there this weekend, and they executed.”

The Titans put up three runs in the third inning when Tony Ortiz and Thomas Rudinsky each singled home a run, and Colton Sakamato drove in another with a double. Ortiz went 3-for-3 and former Churchill outfielder Hank Forrest went 3-for-5 and scored twice.

In the second game, Lane sent Drew Smernes, another former Lancer, to the mound and he delivered another gem. Smernes scattered two hits over five innings and gave up one run, keeping the Chukar batters off balance with a dipping curveball. Landen Bourassa, who has started for Lane during most of the season, tossed three innings in relief and struck out three.

Ortiz went 3-for-3 with an RBI and Skylar Vail went 2-for-4 with two RBIs.

“We were freshman heavy,” Ortiz said of Lane’s struggles at the start of the season. “I think I was the only one with an at-bat in college before this year. Just the young guys stepping up, they had to go through that learning curve.”

Lane will begin the NWAC tournament in Longview, Wash., on Thursday and face Everett (33-11, 19-5) in their opening game at 4:35 p.m.