Squalicum coach John Inge had a team four years ago in his first year leading the Storm that had tremendous talent. The club owned nearly all the ingredients to make a postseason run and maybe even reach the state tournament.
But one major void existed, Inge said. Pitching.
Inge gambled Saturday, pegging junior left-hander and No. 3 starter Connor Sage to face city-rival Sehome in a Class 2A District Tournament winner-to-state, loser-out game.
Inge could have opted to throw his ace, David Stealy, but instead upheld the Storm’s three-pronged pitching rotation of Stealy, Harper Moore and Sage.
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For seven dominant innings, Sage rewarded Inge for showing so much faith in him, and Squalicum again exhibited how tough its pitching staff is with a 4-0 win over Sehome before cruising to a 11-2 victory over Cedarcrest May 16, at Daniels Field in Anacortes.
“That was my first game at districts, and (Inge) gave me the ball, and I was excited,” Sage said. “I have been dreaming about that for a week, just coming into this game. I can’t explain it. It was just amazing.”
The first win captured the Storm its first state tournament appearance in program history. The second ensured the club will be playing in the comfortable confines of Joe Martin Field during state’s opening weekend.
“It means an awful lot. It really does,” said of Inge of the Storm’s banner achievement. “I think of some of the guys (to come through) the program. Some of those kids really were good ball players, good kids, but took their lumps, and this is kind of a vindication for some of those boys, because coach Hatch and Sehome has just been pounding Squalicum over the years.”
Squalicum, which earned District 1’s No. 3 seed, will play Sequim or Liberty in its round of 16 game at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 23.
For as well as Sage pitched against Sehome, his effort would have been all for not if it weren’t for some seventh-inning Sehome misfortune and a Squalicum rally.
Sage and Mariners starter Jake Albert threw six shutout innings. Sehome hadn’t reached second base and Squalicum only had one time, but when Sehome gave Squalicum an extra out in the seventh, the Storm made the Mariners pay.
With one out and a runner on second, Tim Lann hit a hard ground ball to Sehome shortstop Felix Zavisubin. The sophomore, who Sehome coach Gary Hatch called one of team’s two-best athletes, bobbled the ball and then rushed a throw that went over the first baseman’s head and out of play, giving the Storm a 1-0 lead.
Josh Holcomb took advantage of the miscue on the next at-bat, driving in Lann with an RBI single. Pinch-hitter J.P. Pacheaco and Ernie Yake then delivered back-to-back RBI singles, pushing the Storm’s lead to 4-0.
“A lot of times in this game it’s those miscues, those plays that you didn’t make that end up costing you at the end of the day,” said Hatch, who expressed no game is lost by any one guy. “Let’s be realistic, it’s one of those things, but the job Sage did, you just have to tip your hat and move on.”
Sage went the distance, gave up four hits, struck out five, walked none and never allowed a Sehome runner to reach second base.
"I was hoping David would be throwing the first game, because David is very clutch," Little said, "but Connor surprised me. He did very well out there."
And because Sage threw the first game, that left Stealy available for the back-end of the doubleheader against Cedarcrest.
Stealy went six innings, gave up two runs on five hits, struck out four and was given plenty of offensive support.
Squalicum took an early lead thanks to a handful of walks and three balks by Cedarcrest pitcher Andrew Willmon.
The Storm led 4-0 after three, and pushed its lead to 6-0 in the fourth after Holcomb delivered a two-out RBI double to the left-field wall.
Cedarcrest got two runs back in the bottom half of the fourth, but a bases-loaded, bases-clearing three-RBI triple in the right-center-field gap from Little highlighted a four-run seventh inning from the Storm.
Lann followed with an RBI single, giving Squalicum a 11-2 advantage before Ben Wolters came in to work the seventh and send the Storm off to state with a win.
“I think the energy in the second game was much better,” Little said. “We were all yelling. We got off to a good start in the first inning and scored a few runs, and that really set us on fire for the rest of the game.”
Squalicum 4, Sehome 0
WP: Connor Sage. LP: Jake Albert. Highlights: Sehome: Leif Anderson 2-3; Aaron Nichols 1-3; Cameron Tipton 1-2. Squalicum: Ernie Yake 2-4, RBI; Josh Holcomb 1-3, RBI; Bunji McLeod 1-3, R.
Squalicum 11, Cedarcrest 2
WP: David Stealy. LP: Andrew Willmon. Highlights: Cedarcrest: Tanner Schaefer 2-3, 2B; Adam Davenport 1-2, R; Ben Lemery 1-2, 2B, 2 RBI. Squalicum: Tim Lann 3-4, BB, 2B, 3 R, RBI; Kyle Little 2-4, BB, 2B, 3B, 3 R, 3 RBI; Josh Holcomb 1-3, 2 BB, 2B, 2 RBI, Ernie Yake 0-1, 4 BB, R.