BELLINGHAM - As painful as it was for sophomore Tanner Tutterrow to lose a well-pitched game last week that would have clinched Meridian's return to the Class 1A State Baseball Tournament, he wasn't really looking for a repeat opportunity.
However, when Tutterrow received a second chance to pitch the Trojans to state, he did so with poise under the most severe possible pressure as Meridian saved its season with a 5-2 victory over Overlake-Bear Creek in the fifth-place elimination game in the Tri-District Tournament on Saturday, May 11, at Sehome.
The game was Meridian's last chance in the wake of the Trojans' 5-2 loss to Vashon earlier Saturday in another winner-to-state game, forcing Tutterrow to throw a game that meant everything.
"Tanner's been like that all year. If people only knew how he's our fiercest competitor," said Meridian coach Steve Slesk. "There's no question, he was very poised. He's got that mental makeup."
Meridian (14-10), which has finished third at state for three consecutive years, will next play in the four-team 1A State Regional at Moses Lake. Only one team from each of four regionals will qualify for the state's final four weekend.
A week earlier, Tutterrow allowed no earned runs in a 2-1 loss to Mount Baker in the Northwest District title game. On Saturday, he gave up only one earned run, then immediately picked a runner off first base to end that inning.
All the more intriguing for Meridian, Tutterrow (6-3) registered no strikeouts while scattering six hits and two walks.
"I don't keep track of strikeouts at all," said Tutterrow, who said his curve was his best pitch until he gained better control of his fastball. "Our guys played very good defense.
"I had trouble locating my fastball early (he gave up five hits in the first four innings, but only one hit in the final three innings). But my fastball starting working well toward the end."
Slesk said he wasn't surprised with Tutterrow's ability to survive several jams.
"Our program is all about throwing strikes and making plays," said Slesk, whose team made only one error (costing Tutterrow an unearned run in the first inning). The stylish sophomore coaxed 11 infield outs, six popups and three fly balls along with his vital pickoff.
Tutterrow, who charts Meridian's pitching opponents during games in order to help his teammates, acknowledged the pain he felt last week.
"I just had to shake it off, but it hurt," he said. "I just knew I had to get over it."
Meanwhile, a reserve player who has been looking for an opportunity, junior Jamison Hodge, made his first run batted in for the varsity memorable.
Hodge, who has played mostly junior varsity, made a major contribution with a go-ahead sacrifice fly, giving the Trojans a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning.
Jake Plagerman was safe on an error and stole second. Davis Phillips beat a bunt single, sending Plagerman to third, and Hodge drove a fly to deep left field with one out. Plagerman could have walked home.
"I definitely felt I was ready to contribute," said Hodge, who hopes to earn regular batting duty as a senior. "We all had a great week of practice. I'm definitely living the dream."
Slesk's hunch to give Hodge a start at designated hitter paid off.
"Jamison swings a good bat," said Slesk. "He hasn't been super consistent, but he can hit. I had no problem giving Jamison the chance."
Chad Richter, the losing pitcher to Vashon in the first game, showed he's got a pretty tough mental makeup, too. In the first inning against Overlake, Richter came back to line a two-out RBI single up the middle to score Tucker Bronkema, who walked and stole second.
In the second inning, Plagerman and Phillips both were safe on errors, with Plagerman scoring the first of his three runs.
Meridian added a run in the fifth on hits by Bronkema and Jeremy Brockmann, a fielder's choice and Tutterrow's two-out RBI single. In the sixth, Plagerman singled, stole second and scored on a squeeze bunt by No. 9 hitter Dakota Jones.
Tutterrow allowed Overlake, the champion of the Emerald City League, to tie the game 2-2 in the top of fourth on two singles and a run-scoring fielder's choice following a walk. Then followed Tutterrow's inning-ending pickoff - a huge morale boost for the Trojans.
In the loss to Vashon, the Trojans surrendered all five runs in the fifth. Bronkema and Davis drove in runs in the sixth and seventh, providing at least a little momentum and spirit head into the elimination struggle.
MERIDIAN 5, OVERLAKE-BEAR CREEK 2
Overlake-Bear Creek 100 100 0-2 6 5
Meridian 110 111 x-5 6 1
WP: Tanner Tutterrow (6-3). LP: Ben Kelleran. Highlights: Meridian: Tucker Bronkema 1-3; Jeremy Brockmen 1-3; Chad Richter 1-3, RBI; Tanner Tutterrow 1-3, RBI; Jake Plagerman 1-3, 3 runs, 2 SB; Davis Phillips 1-1; Jamison Hodge RBI; Dakota Jones RBI. Overlake: Peter Perkins 1-2, 3B; Ben Kelleran 1-3; James Geiger 1-4, 2B, RBI; Alexander Gosanko 1-3; Aaron Zhu 1-3; Evan Sather, 1-3, 2B; Troy Stolarczuk RBI.
VASHON 5, MERIDIAN 2
Vashon 000 050 0-5 7 2
Meridian 000 001 1-2 3 2
WP: Kelly Sullivan. LP: Chad Richter. Highlights: Meridian: Tucker Bronkema 2-3, RBI; Chad Richter 1-4; Davis Phillips RBI. Vashon: Ezra Lacina, 2B, 2RBI.