The Del Norte baseball team has made a living off of dramatic come-from-behind victories this season so it was fitting that the Warriors captured the 2014 Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 baseball league championship with a comeback performance in a de facto championship game against Arcata on Friday.
It was the first league title for the Del Norte baseball team since 1998.
“It has been a long time,” said Del Norte head coach Travis Johnson. “We were due.”
The Warriors let an early chance to lock up the title slip through their fingers in the first game of the doubleheader against second-place Arcata. The Tigers scored four runs in the first inning and pulled away for a 6-1 victory.
The Arcata win set up a winner-take-all championship game in the nightcap.
Once again, the Tigers jumped out front, scoring two runs apiece in the first two innings to take a 4-1 lead that grew to 5-1 in the top of the fifth inning. With its back against the wall, however, Del Norte was able to stay composed, like they have for much of the season, and fight their way back into the game.
Sophomore Austin Healy got the bottom half of the inning started by drawing a walk. Steven Maready followed that up with a single and Josiah Johnson laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners around. After an intentional walk was issued to Nathan Porter, Dylan Pease smacked an RBI single, followed by a two-RBI single from Chris Bray to cut Arcata’s lead to one run.
In the sixth inning Healy again led off, this time with a double. Maready, Johnson and Porter each followed that up with a single. The next hitter, Pease, smacked a two-RBI single into the outfield to give Del Norte its first lead of the day.
“In the first game, we just couldn’t seem to get anything going,” Johnson said. “We couldn’t get any hits in a row. We talked between games and the kids said, ‘We have come too far to go home now.’ They really sucked it up in the last game, we put some hits together in a row, we stole some bases and we scored some runs. We turned the pressure around on them instead of them putting it on us.”
After taking the lead, Porter retired the Tiger hitters in order in the seventh to officially kick off the celebration. Porter picked up the win, pitching seven innings and allowing five runs, two earned, on five hits, one walk, one hit batter and three strikeouts.
“He pitched a great game,” Johnson said of Porter. “He threw strikes all day. I told him to just keep throwing strikes and getting through the innings and we would win the inning for him. We started getting some hits, gave him a lead and he never relinquished it.”
The Warriors improve to 16-6 overall this season and finish the league schedule at 8-4. Arcata, Fortuna and Eureka all tied for second at 7-5 in league play.
By winning the HDN Big 5, the Warriors are guaranteed a spot in the North Coast Section tournament. Del Norte will also likely get a first-round home game. The Warriors will know who and where they play for sure on Sunday night when the NCS releases brackets.