ANACORTES - The Seattle Mariners used to have "The Big Unit," when Randy Johnson was in his prime - the Lynden baseball team has "The Eclipse."
Though Lions senior Matt Meyer gives up 5 inches in height and more than 20 mph on his fastball to the former Major Leaguer and throws with his thick right arm, the 6-foot-5, 280-pound Washington State bound offensive tackle is quite imposing from 60 feet, 6 inches away.
"He just adds such a presence on the mound," Lynden coach Cory White said of Meyer. "That's big kid out there that you're looking at. He pretty much blocks the whole center field fence when he's out there on the mound. ... Plus, he's got that touch of a little wildness in him that doesn't allow you to dig in."
Meyer, who usually plays first base, was a surprise starter on Saturday, May 11, with the season on the line, when Lynden faced Sehome in the third-place game of the Class 2A District 1/2 Tournament at Daniels Field, but he cast his giant shadow on the Mariners, throwing a one-hit shutout to lift his team into the state playoffs with a 2-0 victory.
Both teams advanced to the third place game with wins earlier Saturday - Lynden beat Lake Washington 4-1, while Sehome topped Granite Falls 8-0.
With the second win, though, the Lions (21-2) move on to state for the second straight year and will face the District 3 No. 3 seed - either North Kitsap or Lindberg, who were scheduled to play late Saturday - at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 18, at Joe Martin Field in Bellingham. District 3 No. 6 seed White River and District 1/2 champion Archbishop Murphy, which beat Sedro-Woolley 9-1 on Saturday, also will be in the Bellingham Regional and will play at 1 p.m. Saturday.
"It means a lot to us seniors, just knowing that we're going our separate ways when we get to graduation," Meyer said. "I mean, how many seniors do we have that are going to play college somewhere? Sometimes we might not see each other for a really long time. It means a lot to be able to hang out with them for another week."
Sehome's 13 seniors will not get that opportunity, at least on a baseball field, as the Mariners (17-7) saw their season come to a close.
"I'm really proud of our kids," Sehome coach Gary Hatch said. "They worked their fannies off all season long. We got a lot of mileage out of this senior group. They have worked all season long, and the bottom line to our success has been that senior group."
That group had to be feeling pretty good about its chances entering the third place game on Saturday, especially when it looked at the pitching match up.
On one hand, Sehome had its ace - Brice Longanecker - after Hatch decided to save the senior left-hander and not pitch him in the first game of the day against Granite Falls.
On other, you had Meyer - a pitcher that only had one start so far this season and thrown a total of 11 2/3 innings entering the game.
Lynden was forced to use its top pitcher, Tanner Olson, earlier Saturday against a tough Lake Washington lineup that had already scored 20 runs in its first two games of the district tournament. White decided to go with Meyer rather than normal No. 2 starter Zach Vis, because Vis went all seven innings on Tuesday, May, 7, in a 5-4 loss to Sedro-Woolley in the tournament semifinals.
"Throwing Tuesday, he only had three days rest, and he's not a guy that bounces back really fast," White said of the decision not to start Vis on the mound. "Tanner can usually come back on four days, but Zach wasn't ready. He was ready to go if we need a couple good innings for us."
White said the Lions had been trying to shake the rust off Meyer all season long, but just hadn't been able to get him on the mound in many game situations. His only start this year before Saturday was on Senior Night against Nooksack Valley, but he had been getting work in bullpen sessions. He entered with at 2-0 with a 1.20 ERA in his limited game action on the mound.
Nothing looked rusty about Meyer on Saturday, though.
"He had a really live arm," Hatch said. "I have not seen that before in him. He was really effective."
Despite his impressive size and athletic ability, Meyer is not a pitcher that will blow it by batters. In fact, he probably averaged in the high 70s or really low 80s with his fastball.
Instead Meyer did a terrific job of working the ball in and out on hitters and up and down in the strike zone with pitches that had good late movement on them.
"He has a little curve and slider," White said. "I think sometimes that's kind of a bad rap against him - guys think he's just going to come in and gas it by you. That's not what he does. He's able to hit his spots and keeps moving it around."
Josh Zavisubin's one-out single in the third was the only hit Meyer allowed, and it gave the Mariners runners at the corners. But the Lions got out of the jam by turning a double play.
The only other inning Sehome had multiple base runners was the fourth, when Tyler Knutsen reached on Lynden's first error in four district tournament games and Meyer hit Longanecker with a 1-2 pitch. But Meyer responded by getting a pop up to end the inning.
"When I really figured out that I was doing something good was when I got to the fifth and I thought I was only in the fourth," Meyer said. "About then, I figured I could probably finish this thing out."
That's exactly what he did, retiring Sehome's last nine batters in order.
Meyer need 95 pitches - 62 of them strikes - to go the distance, limiting Sehome to the one hit and two walks while striking out seven.
"I just trusted Josh (Kraght, his catcher) and I trusted my arm to throw in the right places with my pitches," Meyer said. "My approach is my dad always tells me to just get it done."
Longanecker also threw a strong game for Sehome, scattering seven hits and stranding eight Lynden base runners.
But Lynden turned Luke Christianson's one-out walk in the bottom of the third into an unearned run when Tanner Olson singled him home to take a 1-0 lead after an error prolonged the inning.
Vis also made a big contribution in the fifth, when he doubled that lead by crushing the first pitch he saw over the left-center field fence for a two-out solo home run.
"That definitely built my confidence, because I knew that I had one run to give away if I needed to," Meyer said. "But going into that seventh, I didn't want to give up one, because I wanted to prove to myself and prove to the rest of the league that even though I haven't pitched that much, I can still work it and get things done."
Suffice it to say, nobody's going to doubt the big right hander again.
LYNDEN 4, LAKE WASHINGTON 1
In its first game against Lake Washington, Lynden jumped ahead in the bottom of the second inning, when Olson doubled into the right-center field gap on the second pitch of the inning and scored on Jordan Wittenburg's groundout. Ryan Mouat also scored in the inning on Peter Bovenkamp's single.
Wittenburg then hammered a hanging curveball for a leadoff homer in the fourth, before Josh Kraght scampered home on a wild pitch in the fifth.
Though Olson wasn't as dominant as he has been, that was more than enough for him, as he managed to scatter sixth hits and a walk to hold the Kangaroos to one third-inning run. Olson finished with nine strikeouts.
SEHOME 8, GRANITE FALLS 0
Sehome used a big second inning to take control of its elimination game against Granite Falls.
The Tigers committed three of their four errors and had a hit batter in the frame, and the Mariners pounced, adding three hits to put a six spot up. Knutsen had the big hit of the inning, as his single brought home Jake Albert and Jacob Manson with the final two runs. Albert also had an RBI single, while Manson a run-scoring double earlier in the inning.
That was more than enough for Knutsen, who was simply outstanding, holding the Tigers to one hit and two walks while striking out three, and allowing the Mariners to save Longanecker for the second game.
David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
LYNDEN 2, SEHOME 0
Sehome 000 000 0 - 0 1 2
Lynden 001 010 x - 2 7 1
WP: Matt Meyer (3-0). LP: Brice Longanecker. Highlights: Sehome: Josh Zavisubin 1-3. Lynden: Luke Christianson 1-3, R; Zach Vis 1-3, R, RBI, HR; Tanner Olson 1-2, RBI; Matt Meyer 1-3, Jordan Wittenburg 1-3, Peter Bovenkamp 1-3, Aleksei Poventud 1-1.
LYNDEN 4, LAKE WASHINGTON
Lake Washington 001 000 0 - 1 6 0
Lynden 020 110 x - 4 6 0
WP: Tanner Olson (9-0). LP: Connor Johnson. Highlights: Lynden: Josh Kraght 1-3, R; Zach Vis 1-3; Tanner Olson 1-2, R, 2B; Ryan Mouat 1-3, R; Jordan Wittenburg 1-3, R, 2 RBI, HR; Peter Bovenkamp 1-3, RBI.
SEHOME 8, GRANITE FALLS 0
Granite Falls 000 000 0 - 0 1 4
Sehome 060 200 x - 8 8 2
WP: Tyler Knutsen. LP: Xavier Denke. Highlights: Sehome: Jake Albert 2-3, R, RBI; Jake Manson 1-3, 2B, R, RBI; Tyler Knutsen 2-4, 2 RBI.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.