Few of the state’s Class 1A baseball teams may boast better and more experienced pitching than Meridian figures to have next season.
This season, however, is over for the Trojans (13-12) in the wake of a tough-luck 6-4 loss to Seattle Christian in the first round of the 1A State Regionals on Saturday morning at Daniels Field.
“Our team chemistry is really there,” said coach Steve Slesk, whose players and coaches exchanged obviously heartfelt hugs moments after their season ended.
“They’ll (the seven non-seniors who started) all play summer Legion ball,” said Slesk, who will have his two starters and top two relief prospects back. “They’re a great group of guys.”
Meridian’s No. 1 starter, junior Simon Burkett, as usual competed well both on the mound and at bat. But the combination of tough luck and one of the state’s toughest hitters, Nisqually League co-MVP Brock Wrolstad, proved to difficult to overcome.
Wrolstad went 3 for 4 with two doubles, drove in three runs and scored another.
It was the sixth state appearance in a seven-season span for Slesk’s Trojans. But the game provided a vivid example of the pitch counting exercise high school ball has become, even in May much less March, with the new National Federation 105-pitch limit.
Burkett ended the sixth inning with 104 pitches, so he was not going to get the chance to continue even if Meridian had rallied in the top of the seventh.
With two outs in the seventh, Seattle Christian ace Alex Evenson went to a 1 and 2 count (plus three fouls) on stubborn Meridian junior leadoff man Lukas Hemenway. That meant Evenson had to leave with 105 pitches.
“Maybe the pitch limit should be more (such as 120) in May,” said Slesk, in consideration of how much stronger pitchers often get and how much more important the games become.
Seattle shortstop Cole Forde earned a save with two pitches, the second behind a game-ending grounder.
With the game tied 4-4 in the bottom of the fourth, center fielder Hemenway nearly pulled one of the best catches anyone could hope to see.
In full stride, Hemenway went all out horizontal with a dive in a desperate attempt to catch cleanup hitter Josh Mears’ blast, but could not hold on. Mears had a hit and Connor Knack scored the go-ahead run. Knack, Seattle’s No. 9 hitter, led off the fourth with a double.
Knack also scored the game’s last run in the sixth on Wrolstad’s third hit, all sizzlers.
Meridian took a 2-1 lead in the second on a long double by Cole Weidkamp, a single by Baker Otter and a double by fence-rattling double by Burkett, who scored on a suicide squeeze by Dawson Phillips.
The Warriors went up 3-2 in the third on Wrolstad’s two-run double, an error and a grounder.
The Trojans weren’t done yet, however, thanks to a run-scoring single by Phillips for his second RBI and a run-scoring grounder to the right side by Quinn Swanson to create a 4-4 tie.
Burkett did a good job of just getting through the fifth and sixth, considering he had 80 pitches after four innings.
Perhaps the least fortunate player in the park was Meridian’s No. 2 pitcher, junior Warren Utschynski, who didn’t get to start what would have been a regional final.