NINTH INNING: Toledo Eighth Grader Kaven Winters Hit the Walk-Off Grounder to Give Toledo a 4-3 Win Over Twin Cities in the Season Finale
TOLEDO — “Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach, I feel it in the air, the summer's out of reach.” Or so goes the opening lyrics of Don Henley’s 1984 hit “The Boys of Summer.”
Summer in the seasonal sense isn't over yet, but high school summer baseball has reached the bottom of the ninth with two outs here in Lewis County.
In Toledo it was the bottom of the 11th when Indians eighth grader Kaven Winters hit a walk-off infield chopper up the middle that scored Carson Gould in a 4-3 win over the Twin Cities Eagles Friday night.
The game marked the season-finale for high school ball in the county as the two teams played each other for the fifth time this season. There’s no one left to play after the county health officer prohibited sporting events with out-of-county players. Rural Baseball Inc. out of Winlock dropped out last week due to a large portion of its players being from Cowlitz County.
Now it leaves just the Twin Cities Babe Ruth league, featuring 13-15-year olds, which is having its closing ceremonies and final matchups at Stan Hedwall Park Saturday. Awards begin at 11 a.m. and games start at 12:30 p.m.
For Winters, it was a perfect way to end summer ball as he continues his development heading into his freshman year while vying for a varsity spot. With the bases loaded and no outs, he knew he just needed to put the ball into play, especially considering the sun was fading fast and it was likely his team’s last chance to score before the game was called. So when he saw a fastball in the zone he took his shot.
“I knew I didn’t want it to be a tie,” Winters said. “I heard them saying they were going to end it after this. I wanted to get it over.”
It was a game fitting for a finale. Not only did the scheduled seven-inning match go 11 innings, but the Indians tied it up at 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh after trailing 3-1 most of the game. It included a diving catch in centerfield by Eagles’ Aaron Zylstra and a headfirst dive into first base by Indians’ Justin Filla, who was called safe.
“Couldn’t ask for a better game,” Toledo coach Bill Waag said. “It had pretty much everything and the kids came through, especially the young kids. It’s good to have them in different situations during the summer so when we get to the regular season we’ve been there before and glean off that experience. It was fun. Both teams played their hearts out.”
While one eighth-grade Indian hit the walk-off, another eighth grader, Caiden Shultz shutdown the Eagles on the mound as the closer. Filla, who just finished his sophomore year at Toledo, was a whirlwind on the basepaths, swiping four bags in total. For him, it was a bittersweet ending to a season that almost never happened.
“Kind of sad but also happy,” Filla said. “It’s our last game, we’re happy it went the way it did and we got to play as long as we did. We got to at least play games this season. It’s a sad ending to a good season.
For Twin Cities’ Zack Rone, who’s heading into his junior year at Centralia, it was a chance to get some final redemption after injuring a tendon in his throwing arm just 16 pitches into the Eagles’ opening game two months ago. He’s spent the entire time since then rehabbing and literally was finally cleared to play on Thursday by his physical therapist. Though he didn’t get to pitch like he wanted to, he did start the game at second base and opened up with a hard-hit double to right-center in his first at-bat.
“It was amazing,” Rone said. “I missed baseball. I hate not playing it. During the season I was so mad I couldn’t play because of my arm. I was wishing I could be out here playing with them the entire time.”
Both Toledo and Twin Cities were fortunate to play a total of 17 games each this summer considering the amount of curveballs thrown at them and all sports these past six months.
First it was the COVID-19 pandemic that hit in March and canceled all high school athletics for the 2019-20 year. Sports finally opened up on June 19 when the county reached phase three of the state’s four-phase plan. On June 21, the county health officer prohibited any tournaments with out-of-county athletes under the age of 18, and that was amended to include players of any age the following day. That left just three county teams available to play: Toledo, Twin Cities and Rural Baseball Inc. Now that’s coming to an end with the season closing.
“It’s a good July,” Waag said. “I didn’t think we were going to get past the middle of July, I thought we were going to get shut down. We’re just lucky to finish July 31 and get 17 games in.”