Squalicum’s bus was running late, players were sleeping during the ride to Anacortes and Bellingham had already been warming up for a half-hour when the Storm reached Volunteer Park.
Squalicum coach John Inge had an unsettling hunch his team might come out sluggish.
Spearheaded by starting senior pitcher Harper Moore, Squalicum instead played with the resemblance of a team hungry to erase a slow start to the Class 2A District Tournament and inch closer to a state tournament berth.
Inge was disappointed with how his club competed during an opening-round loss to Burlington-Edison over the weekend, but the Storm made Bellingham hard-throwing starter Charlie Carmichael work for outs and Moore turned in what Inge considered a career-best performance to help Squalicum earn a 3-1 district consolation round win over the Red Raiders to stave off elimination Tuesday, May 12, at Volunteer Field in Anacortes.
The win sends Squalicum (15-6) to a winner-to-state, loser-out game against city-rival Sehome at noon Saturday, May 16, at Daniels Field. The loss ended the season for Bellingham (9-12).
“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, we’re in trouble,’” said Inge of his team’s pregame. “’We’re going to come out lethargic,’ and we didn’t. Our seniors stepped up today, and boy, Harper was phenomenal.”
Moore blanked Bellingham for six straight innings after giving up an early lead on an RBI single to Red Raiders shortstop Austin Shenton during the bottom of the first.
Moore, who was praised by Inge for his intense competitiveness, wasn’t overpowering by any means, but he was awfully effective, throwing seven innings of four-hit ball with three strikeouts and four walks.
After the first, Bellingham never truly threatened again until the sixth when Shenton and Pearsall led off the inning with back-to-back singles before Moore set down the next three batters in order.
“It was really big,” said Moore of the must-win situation. “This whole season I think we’ve been underplaying our talent. Last year we were a young team with talent, and this year we’re more mature. We’re ready to play the playoffs and go win another game.”
Carmichael rivaled Moore’s outing, going seven innings and giving up four hits, but Squalicum made him throw a lot of pitches, drawing five walks.
And Squalicum capitalized on its opportunities.
Bunji McLeod, getting a spot start in the lineup at DH, was the first to deliver. He tied the game at 1-1 with an RBI double down the left-field line, scoring David Stealy in the top of the second.
Tim Lann, who preceded McLeod with a single, scored later in the inning on an attempted suicide squeeze play. Carmichael’s pitch bounced in front of Bellingham catcher Dante Check, who was unable to locate the ball before Lann crossed the plate.
“Bunji, he’s a part-time guy for us,” Inge explained. “I just had a hunch he was due for a good day. He’s a good hitter, a good contact guy. That was a big hit that got us started, because Charlie is a really tough guy himself.”
Squalicum padded its lead in the bottom of the fifth on a Lann RBI single into center field. The Storm third baseman, who logged two of the Storm’s four hits, drove in Carter Nickelson from second after he drew a leadoff walk. Carmichael walked three in the inning but got out of a bases-loaded, two-out situation by getting Connor Sage to pop out to center.
Moore quickly dismissed Bellingham in the seventh, getting pinch-hitter Tyler Rasmussen, Brad Johnson and Dante Check to each ground out, ending the game.
Shenton had two of Bellingham’s hits, going 2 for 2. Carmichael and Pearsall logged the Red Raiders’ other two hits.
Squalicum 3, Bellingham 1