LAUREL - Even though a misplayed popup earlier in the inning contributed to the bases-loaded, no-out jam Bellingham left-hander Matt Richard faced in the bottom of the second inning Monday, April 8, at Meridian, it didn't rattle the senior's confidence in his defense.
"Once again, I was just trying to put it in the strike zone," Richard said. "I knew my defense was playing great, as they always do. I just wanted to get something they could put in play, and I knew my defense would get me out of it."
It turned out the only Bellingham defender Richard ended up using to escape was catcher Connor Phelps.
Richard blew a first-pitch strike by Dakota Jones, then got him to foul off two straight pitches before getting him swinging to end the threat.
"Matty was nails," Bellingham coach David Farrell said. "He competed. That's what we preach to our pitchers, is you've got to compete every time out. He was the best competitor on the field. He came after them. It was a tough situation, but he's a senior. It's not something he's not used to, and he just stepped up his game."
Richard was just as dominant through most of the rest of the game, as he threw a three-hit shutout to boost Bellingham to a 6-0 Northwest Conference victory.
It marked the seventh-straight victory for the Red Raiders (9-2, 4-0 NWC).
Richard was simply outstanding Monday, as 60 of his 94 pitches were for strikes. It didn't take long to see that he was on, as he retired two Meridian batters with his first two pitches, and he surrendered only two seventh-inning walks while striking out six.
But none were bigger than his strikeout to end the second.
"We needed to put something on the board that second inning," Meridian coach Steve Slesk said. "Maybe if we had, it would have been a little different ballgame."
While Richard robbed the Trojans (6-4, 0-4) of some of their steam, Bellingham was able to feed off it.
"I think it just gives us a little more motivation to go into the next inning and some momentum," Richard said. "Strikeouts in big situations like that get the team more energized a little bit. It helps us the next inning go in and hit the ball well."
As it turns out, it was Richard that took advantage of the swing.
No. 9 hitter Dante Check drew a one-out walk on six pitches and advanced to second on Aaron Burke's ground out.
That brought up Richard, who immediately doubled Check home with a line drive that was just out of reach of a diving Jones in right-center field.
"I was just looking for a ball to get through the infield, and I ended up putting a good swing on it and hitting it into the gap," Richard said.
Richard made the 1-0 lead stand by retiring the next eight batters he faced and 13 of the next 14.
Bellingham added two more runs in the top of the fifth, when Check singled in Oscar White, who reached on a leadoff double, before Check also scored on Burke's ground out to make it 3-0, and the Red Raiders doubled the margin in a three-run sixth highlighted by Burke's two-out, two-run single.
"Our offense has been just kind of chipping away," Farrell said. "We expect every game to be like this the rest of the way. Our schedule is pretty brutal the rest of the way. This league is hard. We expect we're going to have to chip away. We're going to have to put bunts down. We're going to have to hit and run. We're going to have to hit to the right spots. We've just got to play good, solid, fundamental baseball and worry about the results later."
The results Monday were nine hits, including at least one by seven members of Bellingham's starting lineup. White and Burke each had two.
In spite of what the score and the high number of hits might show, Meridian starter Jeremy Brockmann pitched well in the game.
In fact considering he was battling a stomach ailment less than 24 hours earlier and could be heard coughing in between just about every pitch, his performance was nearly heroic.
In spite of the illness, Brockmann threw 98 pitches through 6 1/3 innings and allowed three walks while striking out three.
"He definitely didn't deserve 6-zip," Slesk said. "I was very proud of Jeremy. I'm very encouraged by our starters right now. They're giving good solid innings, which is what we need, and they're starting to come into their own. We just need to be a little more solid defensively, which we are. We are a very solid defensive team, but we're making little stupid mistakes."
Not getting much offense after the second didn't help the Trojans' cause, either.
Meridian's three hits came from the bottom of its lineup, as Nos. 7, 8 and 9 hitters Davis Phillips, Kyle Linderman and Jones each picked up a single.
Meridian will look for its first NWC win of the year when it hosts Squalicum at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 10, while Bellingham will try to stay perfect when it hosts Blaine in a 6:30 p.m. game the same day at Joe Martin Field..
"I think we have a lot of confidence right now," Richard said. "We have (seven) wins in a row, and we're hitting the ball really well. One through nine, everybody has an equal chance of getting a base hit in a big situation. I think that is big for us this year. We haven't always had that depth to our lineup."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
BELLINGHAM 6, MERIDIAN 0
Bellingham 001 023 0 - 6 9 1
Meridian 000 000 0 - 0 3 1
WP: Matt Richard. LP: Jeremy Brockmann. Highlights: Bellingham: Aaron Burke 2-4, 3 RBI; Oscar White 2-3, 2 R; Matt Richard 1-3, RBI, 2B; Ryan Fox 1-2, R, RBI; Dante Check 1-2, 2 R, RBI. Meridian: Davis Phillips 1-2, Kyle Linderman 1-3, Dakota Jones 1-2.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.