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As the only three-year varsity starter for the Bowsher baseball team, senior Jake Almanza wanted to leave a mark on the school's program before he graduated.
The crafty left-handed pitcher did just that Tuesday night, throwing a complete-game two-hitter to lift Bowsher (22-5) to a 4-1 victory over Start in the City League championship game at Bowman Park.
"I didn't think I had that in me," Almanza said. "My arm kind of hurt coming into this game, honestly, but I told 'em I was ready to go. My curveball and my changeup were my best pitches tonight.
"This just means that we're getting better, and hopefully next year they continue to get better and win the thing again."
It was Bowsher's first CL baseball title in 38 years. The Rebels edged Start on this same field, 1-0, back on May 30, 1974, three years before current Bowsher coach Lew Ackerman was born.
"This has been a long time coming for Bowsher," Ackerman said. "Our boys have worked hard since Thanksgiving — weightlifting, running in the halls, and being together as a team.
"They knew it was going to come down to one game at the end of the year, and they came to play tonight."
Almanza (4-4) closed the door on his school's drought in the bottom of the seventh, retiring the Spartans (16-12) 1-2-3.
"I thought the key to getting through the Start lineup was getting by [leadoff hitter] Nico Vargas and [No. 3 hitter] Marty Ramirez," Almanza said. "Ramirez got two good flies off me, and Vargas got one hit. Other than that we shut them down."
Bowsher's Reiggie Pendleton led off the game with a walk and, when Jacob Empey dropped a sacrifice bunt toward third base, Pendleton raced around to an uncovered third base.
He later scored on Rickey Cousino's two-out single through the middle for a 1-0 Rebels lead.
Bowsher added a run in the third inning when Empey tripled over the head of Start right fielder Alex Russell leading off, and later scored on a wild pitch by Spartan starter Travis Kominek.
The Spartans pulled within 2-1 in the bottom of the third after Vargas followed Alex Russell's leadoff triple to right-center with a ground single between first and second.
"Almanza pitched a great game," said Start coach Jason Biniker, whose Spartans beat Bowsher 7-1 and 2-0 during league play this season. "He's a senior and a competitor, and he was great tonight.
"He had some innings where he walked some guys, but he bore down and we just couldn't get hits. We're not going to beat anybody with two hits. He was awesome tonight."
Bowsher added a pair of insurance runs in the top of the seventh, a rally ignited by pinch-hitter Todd Miller, who led off with a single to right. Right fielder Joey Kiel re-entered to run for Miller, and was advanced by Pendleton's sacrifice bunt.
Empey (2-for-3) followed with a line single to left to put runners at the corners, and Almanza drew a walk to load the bases, setting up a pivotal play in the Rebels' title quest.
Cousino (2-for-4) grounded a potential inning-ending double-play ball to Start second baseman Alex Duncan, who stepped on second for the first out, but threw low toward first baseman Austin Pier.
The ball skipped past Pier, and Empey followed Kiel home for three-run Bowsher lead.
"Jake Almanza'a been our workhorse all year," Ackerman said. "He's thrown our big games, and he's got losses against some of the better teams in the area.
"He's the only three-year varsity player I had, and he's got the right mentality for something like this. He did what he needed to do tonight. He did a great job."
Kominek (4-5) worked seven innings in defeat, yielding eight hits. He struck out 10 batters and walked three.
"Travis Kominek was nervous early, and I thought we were all a little nervous early," Biniker said.
"Travis settled in, and he's got outstanding stuff, but Bowsher was the better team tonight."
NOTE: Start won the CL junior varsity championship, beating Bowsher 6-4 Tuesday night at Bowman Park.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6461, or on Twitter @JungaBlade.