Who let the Panthers out?

Baseball is getting fun again in Washougal

Panthers roughhouse on the diamond after Brandon Casteel brought home the winning run in a 6-5 victory against La Center in eight innings Thursday, at Washougal High School. Buy this photo

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Braden Devlin bashes a 2-run home run to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh innning. Washougal would win it in extra innings.

Who let the Panthers out?

Scratch. Claw. Roar.

After losing every single baseball game in 2013, Washougal has already won three games in 2014. The come-from-behind 6-5 victory against La Center Thursday in extra innings could be just the start of a special season for the Panthers.

“This is a much better place to be, and we’re excited,” said head coach Greg Lewis. “I saw more fans out here today than I did all of last season. They’re excited about the brand of baseball we’re putting on the field.”

The Panthers showed how much they are willing to scratch and claw to protect their diamond Thursday. They gained a 2-0 lead out of the gate, surrendered it, tied it back up, fell behind again, but refused to quit.

Braden Devlin nailed a 2-run home run over the left field fence to even the score in the bottom of the seventh inning.

“I saw the high pitch and loaded up,” Devlin said. “It was the biggest hit of my life and the most memorable game I played in.”

With two outs in the eighth inning, Brandon Casteel stepped up to the plate and laced a game-winning single to finish 5-for-5 on the day.

“I haven’t had too many walkoffs like that. It was just a simple base hit,” Casteel said. “Every one on this team can make it happen. You saw that today.”

Casteel started things off with a smash to dead center and slid into third base with a leadoff single. Tyler Bowlin fouled off some tough pitches, worked the count full, and was rewarded with a pitch he could drive past the third baseman for an RBI single. Aaron Eyler laid down a solid squeeze bunt to bring home a second run for the Panthers in the first inning.

La Center piled on the pressure before breaking through with a 3-2 swing in the fifth inning. Washougal came up with a little 2-out bingo in the bottom of the fifth. Casteel, Bowlin and Devlin delivered back-to-back-to-back singles to tie the game again.

The Wildcats gained a 5-3 advantage in the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly and a run-scoring single. Jake Weiss and Ryan Krout served up base hits with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. Brandon Crawford got a good piece of the ball, but the left fielder tracked it down for the third out.

Washougal turned a big double play in the seventh inning. The first batter for La Center reached base, but Eyler struck out the next one and Casteel threw the runner out trying to steal second base. Eyler ended the top of the seventh with another strikeout.

Casteel beat another throw to first base to lead off the bottom of the seventh. He came around to score on Devlin’s big fly out of the ballpark.

“Braden, what a shot. How clutch was that?” Lewis said. “He’s such a hard working kid. For him to pick us up like that was huge.”

Washougal retired the side in the top of the eighth inning, and got right back to work. Adam Kretschmar reached first safely on a slow roller up the third base line. He advanced to second and third base on a couple of pass balls. Casteel stepped up with two outs in the inning and got the job done like he had done four times before in the game.

“I felt very confident,” Lewis said. “We had the right kid up there. It was just a matter of where was he going to hit it?”

The Panthers are determined to climb out of the cellar and contend for a playoff spot. There is still plenty of baseball to play. Whatever happens, the Panthers have this dramatic victory to look back on and believe they can do it again.

“We can always come back,” Devlin said. “Don’t give up. Keep going. Just do it.”

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