Walk-off wonder: Kyle Tat wins it for Hazen

After giving up a three run lead and traling in the bottom of the seventh, Hazen wins it in dramatic fashion.

There is nothing quite like coming up in a baseball game under pressure with the game hanging in the balance resting on how two individuals fair in a war of attrition. Fans and players were privy to that scenario multiple times in a thrilling 6-5 walk-off victory by the Hazen Highlanders over the Kentlake Falcons on March 18.

After near implosion in the top of the seventh, Hazen’s Kyle Tat came to the rescue when the team needed it most with a walk-off, two RBI double in the bottom of the seventh.

“He’s my hottest hitter. He’s come up big game after game the last few games,” Head Coach Kevin Hays said.

Isaac Lee and Marcus McCarthy got on base in that seventh inning with a single and a walk. Tat was down in the count with an 0-2 count after the first two pitches of his at-bat, but sent the third pitch into the right center gap, scoring both Lee and McCarthy to win the game.

“I was just trying to hit it the other way and see it deep. I was a little stressed getting down 0-2. I felt like those two pitches I could have hit. I stuck with my approach and got a lot of barrel,” Tat said.

That hit might have won the game by technicality, but this game was so much more than just a regular walk-off win. It first started with pitching — both starters are of an extremely high caliber. Christopher Moore for Kentlake and Sam Nicholson for Hazen are two of the more interesting prospects on the mound who can light up the radar gun.

Hazen scored 17 runs in their most recent game, a win over Sammamish. That number seemed to be unattainable with a pitcher the quality of Moore on the mound. But Hazen didn’t let that hype affect their approaches at the plate. In the second inning, Hazen pushed three runs across. Was it pretty? No, but starting with the six hole batter Alvin Chang, who got hit by a pitch, the rally began. After Chang, Max Lawson walked and the first run came across on an error by the Falcon third baseman.

“We were just making contact. That was our focus, just put the ball in play and see what happens. They have been working hard at that and making adjustments,” Hays said.

Two other runs scored without the ball reaching the outfield grass, all with two out in the bottom of the second.

With Hazen leading 3-0, that seemed to be more than enough with the way Nicholson was dealing Monday night. Through the first three innings of his five-inning performance, Nicholson didn’t allow a single base runner and just two balls were put in play. The right-hander cruised to a quick seven strikeouts through the first three innings.

The Highlanders’ offense got one more run in the third, before their offense stalled out in the back half of the game. A leadoff single and error off the bat of McCarthy gave the Highlanders a gift of a runner in scoring position with no outs. Tat made that error hurt with a double down the right field line to take a 4-0 lead.

Kentlake did break through in the fourth inning with their first run of the game. Moore started the inning with a single and came around to score on a Matthew Ledbetter double.

Nicholson’s night finished the following inning, leaving with allowing just three hits, one earned run and 11 strikeouts.

“He had had a couple of outings with a couple of walks. But other than that he has been pounding the zone... He’s got the fastball, and it serves him well at beginning of games. He’s fun to watch,” Hays said.

Hazen seemed to coast to the seventh inning and seal a 4-1 win over the Falcons. But Kentlake had other ideas — right hander Ian McAnally threw a clean and efficient sixth inning found trouble in the seventh. He recorded just one out and left the bases loaded as Isaac Lee came in to pitch from third base.

Lee’s first batter hit a single to right field, which got under the glove of right fielder Lawson, scoring two runs and cutting the lead down to one, 4-3. After intentionally walking Moore, Lee faced Ethan Loughry with the go-ahead run on at second base. Lee hit Loughry with a 3-2 pitch, which tied the game.

“Stuff happens, you just have to let it go and know you have a job to do. These guys have been working their tails off on how to approach situations and know what is going on,” Hays said.

Lee would also give up a single that was snagged incredibly by McCarthy, which kept it at a 5-4 deficit for Hazen.

Lee bounced back and started the home half of the seventh with a crisp single up the middle. That is the mentality that Hays looks for his players to have: “That shows how strong willed and mentally strong these kids are,” Hays said.

Hazen is hoping to make a run this year. This group has experience, and there is no better time to make a run than this year. They faced one of the best arms in the area early and some adversity, which should help them down the stretch.

“It’s a veteran group, with lots of seniors and juniors... They are ready to go, mentally. I was blessed with this veteran group in my first year. I couldn’t ask for anything more. They are ready to compete,” Hays said.

The players’ competitive drive looks to push them over the edge — Hazen hasn’t made the state tournament since 2012.

“I’m excited and really confident in my guys. I feel like we’re going to get it done this year,” Tat said.

Let the celebration begin. Hazen baseball players mob their teammate Kyle Tat after the win. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Let the celebration begin. Hazen baseball players mob their teammate Kyle Tat after the win. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Kyle Tat celebrates the walk-off win over Kentlake after his double. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Kyle Tat celebrates the walk-off win over Kentlake after his double. Ben Ray / The Reporter