Walk-off home run gives Hanford Flames second win of regionals - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Walk-off home run gives Hanford Flames second win of regionals

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From Oliver Pierce

EUGENE, OR. — In the most dramatic game so far in the American Legion Pacific Northwest Regional baseball tournament, catcher Jake Browne hit a walk-off two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to give the Richland Flames a 5-4 victory over the Billings Royals on Friday evening at Swede Johnson Stadium.

Browne's blast to left field, off reliever TJ Jacobs, came with one out and scored Ryan Neal, who had walked. The Flames, who led 3-2 after seven innings, had fallen behind when Billings pushed across single runs in the eighth and ninth. But that simply set the stage for Browne, who plays at Walla Walla Community College.

"Never," said Browne, when asked if he'd hit a walk-off homer before. "I'm so excited." It was his second homer in as many days at Swede; coming into the tournament, he'd hit one all summer, in 50-some games.

"I took a ball, and I knew he was going fastball," Browne said. "Fun game, real fun game. Both teams played real well."

The Flames (41-19) will play in a winner's bracket game at 8 p.m. Saturday against the winner of the game between the Eugene Challengers and Idaho Falls. The Royals (30-20) play an elimination game against Hawaii at 1 p.m. Saturday.

"I think we have a real good chance," Browne said. "We've just got to play like we can."

Richland coach Nat Roe said Browne is "unbelievable kid ... captain of our defense, toughest kid that we have. And he never gives up. And if you throw him fat early in the count, that kid will get it going, because he's a very tough, very good hitter."

Roe said his team, in winning for the 31st time in its last 33 games, didn't panic after losing the lead.

"We don't ever quit," he said. "Whether we're up 11-2 or down 9-0, we play. This game is a funny game, and if you've got some momentum and have some heart and belief, there's a lot of things that can happen, and these guys truly believe that. ... We started our league 3-9. We've been through some wars. We've been through hell. But we're getting our rewards now."

The Montana state champions scored an unearned run in the top of the first as Joseph Zimmer and Konner Wiechman each hit the first pitch he saw for a single, and Jacobs bunted on the first pitch to move them to second and third. Richland starter Jacob Anderson appeared to have escaped that jam with a two-out strikeout of Tanner Leeknecht, but a passed ball charged to then-catcher Aaron Enderlin on that play allowed Leeknecht to reach first and Zimmer to score. 

The Washington state champions answered with an unearned run in the bottom of the first against Royals starter DJ Baxter. Lead-off batter Finn McMichael reached on an error by Zimmer at second and scored when Trevor Jones singled and right fielder Matt Dillon over-threw third base.

The Royals regained the lead in the top of the second when Dillon singled to right, reached third after a single by Zimmer and a walk to Weichman and scored on a wild pitch. 

After leaving the bases loaded in the sixth, the Flames moved back on top in the seventh, driving Baxter from the game and taking a 3-2 lead. McMichael singled, reaching base for the sixth time in two games, Brady Heid walked and Jones singled to score McMichael and Ryan Neal singled to left on a ball that Taylor Goselin lost in the glare to score Heid. The Flames then loaded the bases, but Jacobs moved from shortstop to the mound and struck out designated hitter Nate Mitchell to end the threat.

But the Royals came right back in the eighth against Anderson, who had allowed just one hit since the second inning. Chance Ackerman started the inning with a single to left, Leeknecht singled to center and, with one out, Goselin singled to left to score Ackerman and tie the game at 3-3. That was all for Anderson, replaced by Mitchell, who got Pete Lind on a scorching liner to third and struck out Dillon to end the inning.

In the ninth, the Royals forged an unearned run to take the lead at 4-3. Zimmer reached when shortstop Heid threw wide, Wiechman sacrificed him to second, Jacobs walked and, after a wild pitch, Ackerman was intentionally walked to load the bases. Leeknecht followed with a first-pitch single to left to score Zimmer. However, Billings couldn't add to the total, as Matt Shelhamer fouled out and Jacobs was thrown out at the plate, Browne to Mitchell, trying to score on a short wild pitch.

Roe praised the job his two pitchers did. "Tough as nails," he said. "Nate Mitchell, we put him in a bit of a (mess), but that kid dug down, and he's got heart and he gave us a chance. Both of our pitchers were absolutely huge."

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