Graydon Lesneski came through again for the West Valley High School baseball team in the Mid Alaska Conference tournament’s championship game.
A year ago at Delta Junction City Park, Lesneski was the winning pitcher for the Wolfpack in its title victory over the North Pole Patriots.
This year’s tournament took place at Marlin Field in Fairbanks, and in Saturday’s final, Lesneski’s walk-off sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh inning delivered the game-winning run in West Valley’s 2-1 victory over North Pole.
“I knew we had only one out, and if I put it anywhere in the outfield, we’d be able to score from third (base) and that was my main goal,” the Wolfpack junior first baseman said as he walked to a jubiliant postgame team meeting.
West Valley designated hitter Will Boswood drew a leadoff walk from Gavin Fischer, who pitched for the distance for North Pole.
Isaac Coon’s sacrifice advanced Boswood to second base, and he went to third on Billy Renfrew’s single first hit of the game.
Lesneski had a one-ball, two-strike count against him when he took a curveballf from Fisher and sent it toward left field to bring home Boswood and bring Wolfpack teammates out of the West Valley dugout for a wild celebration.
“It’s means everything,” Lesneski said of driving in the game-winning run. “It means all the work I put in is coming to something.”
West Valley head coach Tony Chiu agreed.
“He has done so much work in the offseason with his pitching, hitting and fielding that’s made him the person who he is today,” Chiu said.
Because they reached the conference final for the second year in a row, the Wolfpack and Patriots earned repeat trips to the Alaska School Activities Association/First National Bank Alaska Baseball State Championships on Thursday through Saturday at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage. West Valley will be the MAC’s top seed and North Pole the No. 2 seed for the eight-team state tournament.
North Pole, for the second night in a row, was involved in a game that was tied at 1. On Friday night at Marlin Field, the Patriots rallied for a 5-1 win over the Delta Junction Huskies in a semifinal after the game was 1-1 in the top of the sixth inning.
On Saturday against West Valley, North Pole led 1-0 in the top of the first inning. Ben Green led off with a walk and two outs later scored on a wild pitch from Wolfpack starter Andrew Troppmann, who also went the distance on the mound in the final.
Dylan Swarthout made it 1-1 for West Valley in the bottom of the fourth after leading off with an infield single and later scoring from third base on a one-out balk.
Unlike Friday’s semifinal, there was no comeback and postgame celebration for the Patriots on Saturday.
“That’s the toughest part about this game (final),” said North Pole head coach James Fischer. “It comes down to one out, one misplay, one miscue.
“We had plenty of times to execute this whole entire time. We just couldn’t get the break we needed.”
Saturday’s loss is expected to be a preparation tool for the Patriots for the state tournament.
“We’ve got to bring up the bats a little more, we’ve got to cut down some of the errors,” said North Pole center fielder Wyatt Kammer.
West Valley committed two errors Saturday to North Pole’s one.
Kammer also registered one of two hits allowed by Troppmann. Kammer had a lead-off single in the top of the fourth, and Green hit a first-pitch, two-out single an inning later.
Troppmann, a senior right-handed pitcher, put behind the wild pitch in the first and went to record a game-high nine strikeouts.
“My coach (assistant coach Mark Wade) said it’s the most important thing to keep people off balance,” said Troppman, who allowed four walks, and was 1 for 3 as a batter.
“I was just throwing to keep people off balance. Hopefully, they weren’t too sure what I was going to throw them. So I was throwing a fastball, slider and occasionally a knuckleball to just throw them off a little bit.”
The Wolfpack had four hits against Fischer, who struck out three and walked five.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: @newsminersports.