LONGVIEW - Big Bend sophomore Cody Banks waited his entire community college career to reach the big stage, to get his swings in the tournament.
First-year Vikings manager Jameson Lange moved him up to the leadoff spot for the West Super Region and it paid off with a stronger top half of the lineup. On Friday morning at the NWAC Baseball Championships at David Story Field, the second-year third baseman, who had earned an East Region Gold Glove and first-team all-East selection, stood in the batter's box with one last chance to make something happen.
Banks fouled off four pitches against Lane starter Donovan Baldocchi, who went the distance in the NWAC consolation bracket game. Banks (.301) hoped to extend the eight-pitch, at-bat, then stood in disbelief when home plate umpire Chris Claflin rung him up for the final out in Friday's 5-2 loss to the the Titans (25-26)
It was Baldocchi's ninth strikeout of the game and Banks' final at-bat as a Big Bend Viking, but it was a season to remember. The Vikings (31-20) were 31-game winners in a region that sent three of its four qualifiers to the Elite Eight. In fact, No. 1 Yakima Valley, No. 5 Spokane and No. 8 Big Bend were all ranked in the NWAC Coaches Poll much of the season. Two won Super Region titles and the other qualified for the tournament by virtue of winning the East Region.
Just getting out of the East was a tribute to a team with just 10 sophomores and 25 freshmen. Big Bend earned a berth in the NWAC Super Region for the first time since 2002. The Runnin' Vikings burned through the West Super Region with victories over Chemeketa and Tacoma (2) to return to the NWAC Baseball Championships for the first time in 15 years.
Following Thursday's loss Lange said, “I think in this setting, if you're able to put pressure on early and put up a number, it can totally change the dynamic of the rest of the game,” he said.
It sure enough did in Friday's loss. Lane left fielder Bryce Mulcahy (4-for-5, with four RBIs) drove in two runs in the top of the first with a two-out triple and two more in the third with a two-run shot.
The Runnin' Vikings went down swinging. Banks drove in a run. Colton Foreman, a freshman from Sparks, Nev., went 2-for-3 with an RBI and run scored. Trevor Luckey finished up his freshman season with two hits in four plate appearances. Despite scoring two runs on seven hits, Big Bend just couldn't get past Baldocchi's nine strikeouts or put anything together in the way of timely hitting.
Lane, which went into the tournament with a below .500 record, got nine of its 11 hits out from the top five batters in the lineup and changed the dynamic with four runs in the first three innings.
For Daulton Kvenvold, Kyle Tolf, Daniel Fornito, Cade Tunstall, Nathaniel English, Daniel Ochoa, Austin Pesicka, Tyson Yamane, Nic Metcalf and Banks, their community college careers ended on the big stage and the NWAC Baseball Championships.