Mountaineers blow seven-run lead in loss to Mules

Rainier’s three-game win streak snapped


Just as the Rainier High School baseball team was beginning to turn its season around with a 3-0 record since spring break, the Mountaineers couldn’t hold on against Wahkiakum on Saturday, April 13.

Rainier bolted in front, 7-0, through four innings thanks to strong at-bats with runners in scoring position and clutch pitching by senior Ryder Cruse. With Cruse recently returning from an arm injury, Rainier head coach Justin Gurnsey had his starter on a pitch count, and the bullpen allowed 12 unanswered runs in the final three innings to lose, 12-8.

Gurnsey said the broken momentum and the team crumbling under pressure is the most disappointing aspect of the loss, as he berated his players after the game for complaining rather than moving on to the next play.

“This one was painful because we’ve been building. For three and a half games, we have been the hammer and not the nail,” the first-year head coach said. “It felt like that momentum was lost in that moment today, and instead of being able to get back into it and to put that behind you, we just weren’t able to do that.”

The Mountaineers came into Saturday’s game fresh off a three-game win streak, with two dominant wins over Onalaska preceding a 6-2 victory at Wahkiakum on Friday, April 12. Early in Saturday’s game against the Mules, it appeared that the streak was well on its way to four games. 

Hunter Howell’s RBI double put the first run on the scoreboard, and the junior scored on a Peyton Sheaffer sacrifice fly to make it 2-0 in the first inning. Howell has been on a tear at the plate, recording eight RBIs in his last four games. Cruse was dealing on the mound, throwing a heap of strikes and forcing light contact from Mules batters. Through three innings, he allowed just two baserunners, no hits and struck out three.

The Mountaineers added three more runs in the third and two in the fourth to create a 7-0 lead. With Cruse still on the mound to start the fifth, the Mules knocked a two-run double to center field to cut the margin to five, but the senior prevented any further damage to close the frame.

In Rainier’s losses this season, it has often come down to one inning that gets away from the team. The sixth inning was just that for the Mountaineers, as Sheaffer and Johnny Boesch surrendered a combined six walks, two hits, two hit batters and eight runs as Wahkiakum dashed in front, 10-7.

“Ryder wanted to go further, but because of the arm issue that he had, we wanted to limit his pitch count because we need him for more games. We weren’t expecting our other guys not to come through,” Gurnsey said. “We couldn’t throw strikes and they took advantage of that.”

The Mules scored their 11th and 12th unanswered runs in the seventh, and the Mountaineers could only respond with one run in the bottom of the seventh to end the game and break the three-game streak.

“During our streak, we were getting a lot less swings and misses and a lot more contact. It was infectious and a lot of fun, and it’s what we can do,” Gurnsey said. “We get to see our potential, but the problem with potential is it’s fleeting without consistency. We were starting to gain that consistency and that confidence, and we just lost it. We lost but we did it to ourselves.”

The Mountaineers (5-8, 5-7 Central 2B League) return to action with two games against Winlock (2-8, 2-8 C2BL), first on the road on Wednesday, April 17 at 4 p.m. and then at home on Thursday, April 18 at 4 p.m.