Paul Falco took a break from clutching the state title trophy to walk to the home dugout at Gesa Stadium in Pasco, Wash. and toss something to a man waiting in the stands.
Falco needed to be sure his father had the game ball.
The Lake Washington High School baseball team captured the Class 3A state championship on Saturday for the first time in program history with a 2-0 win over Lakeside. Falco pitched a complete game, giving up two hits and striking out six batters.
Now, the game ball goes where Falco and his father, Guy, have been keeping special moments from the little league days.
“Ever since I was a kid — my first home run ball, I got it and I gave it to him,” Paul Falco said. “We write on it what happened, and it goes up on my dresser or his dresser. He loves it.”
The two have collected 30 or 40 baseballs over the years, including one from Falco’s 12-strikeout performance against Juanita earlier this season.
“Words can’t explain the emotions that go into it and how nerve-wracking it is,” Falco said. “The Mercer Island KingCo championship game, it was awesome pitching that game, but bringing the first state championship to [Lake Washington] I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
Final out a Gesa Stadium in Pasco. pic.twitter.com/9ONtdHJzJd
— John William Howard (@JowardHoward) May 29, 2016
The Kangs (24-2) scored both runs in the bottom of the third inning. Catcher Matt Scheffler hit an RBI single to score Austin Lively for the go-ahead run.
“I just had first pitch fastball… and I knew a curve ball was coming,” Scheffler said. “[Lakeside’s Corbin Carroll] had just done it to the two batters before me, and I knew it was coming. Once I got on, I was just trying to do my job.”
Kevin Nakahara was walked, followed by a single from Falco and Scheffler scored all the way from second base.
Lakeside threatened to come back in the top of the sixth inning, loading the bases with no outs. Jake Steele then caught a line drive up the middle and caught Carroll off second base. A fly-out in foul territory ended the inning, stranding three runners.
“I have the best defense in the league — or the best defense in the whole state, and I would take them over any team you could possibly throw at me,” Falco said. “That team, I’d take them over anyone. It’s really, ‘Give my best stuff,’ and if they hit it, I have someone there for me. If they swing through it, I get the strikeout.”
The senior went 11-0 in starts with an ERA of 1.60 this season, picking up a 3A KingCo MVP nod.
“He’s as tough as anybody I’ve coached,” Lake Washington coach Derek Bingham said. “When his stuff is there, he’s unhittable. When his stuff is not there, he’s a bulldog.”
Falco is part of the first four-year class of seniors for Lake Washington following a move to a four-year high school model. Bingham has spoken of the added value of four-year players several times this season, especially because he knew the Kangs were title contenders at the end of last season.
Lake Washington, with Saturday’s victory, has won 33 of the last 36 games.
With the single-elimination format of the baseball tournament, crazy things happen and the best team doesn’t always win.
“In baseball that doesn’t always work out, but the best team won it this year,” Bingham said. “There’s no doubt in my mind. We were the best team at the start of this season, and we were the best team at the end of this season. That’s what we preached all season long to these guys, and they proved it.”
It was Lake Washington’s second appearance in the title game in the last three seasons, erasing the sting of a 2-1 loss to Ellensburg in 2014.
“It’s amazing,” Scheffler said. “Bringing the first state title back to LW, there’s nothing better.”