Meridian junior Simon Burkett, who grew up closely watching and then playing for one strong Trojans baseball team after another, did not debate whether he had just pitched the biggest game of his life.
Now the stylish right-hander seems set for an even bigger challenge.
Burkett’s 3-0 win over much-improved Lynden Christian (13-11) in the winner-to-state third place game of the Class 1A Northwest Bi-District Tournament sent the Trojans (13-11) to the state tournament for the sixth time in coach Steve Slesk’s past seven seasons.
“Considering the stakes, it was his biggest game,” Slesk said of Burkett, who struck out seven and allowed only two hits and one walk in an 87-pitch gem Saturday at Joe Martin Field. “Simon just dominated.”
In fact, Burkett -- also a fine shortstop plus a highly productive quarterback in football -- may have performed as well as he ever has.
“I felt awesome,” he said of both his pitching control and his support. “I was just feeling it, just dialed in. We worked hard all week (after Meridian’s 15-2 loss to eventual district champion Cedar Park Christian). We competed our butts off today.”
Meridian must win two state regional games Saturday, May 20, in Anacortes to make the 1A Final Four.
Meridian, 3-1 at bi-district, ended the game as first baseman Tyler Linderman slowed a shot by Tanner Jansen and sophomore second baseman Dylan Hickok made the play of his career to scramble for the ball and throw out the runner.
Meridian scored two unearned runs in the second off sophomore standout Payton Robertson, who earlier saved LC junior Ty VanDyken’s 9-6 win over South Whidbey in a pressure-packed loser-out game Saturday.
Baker Otter, who went 4 for 5 in Meridian’s two wins Saturday, including a 7-1 victory over the Bush Blazers, led off the second against LC with a single. An error on Burkett’s sacrifice set up a suicide squeeze by Dawson Phillips and a run-scoring wild pitch.
Junior slugger Henry Skaggs doubled home Linderman in the seventh.
David Bladies in the fifth and Cole Langstraat in the sixth had LC’s hits off Burkett.
Meridian’s Warren Utschynski (6-2), a 6-foot-7 junior in his first varsity season, followed up his no-hitter May 6 in Meridian’s tournament opener with a three-hitter on 97 pitches against Bush.
He received outstanding help when first baseman Cole Weidkamp snagged a foul in the stands to set the tone in the second inning. Weidkamp and second baseman Bryson Hickok snagged line drives to end the fifth and sixth with double plays.
Hemenway’s triple, Bryson Hickok’s sacrifice fly, and runs by Otter and Weidkamp on an error following their hits gave the Trojans a 3-0 lead. They made it 6-0 in the second on a hit by Utschynski, an RBI single by Hickok, Otter’s triple and a passed ball. Skaggs’ long fly drove in the last run in the sixth.
It’s no wonder Utschynski said “trusting in my teammates” was the primary reason for his success.
LC’S BIG WIN
Second-year LC coach Daniel Vander Kooi, who guided the Lyncs to their first winning season in 14-years, had much to be proud of. Robertson made 28 pitches in 1 1/3 innings of relief with three strikeouts to save LC’s win over South Whidbey, in which Van Dyken pitched well with 87 pitches in five innings, allowing one hit and one run. But that meant Robertson could throw only 77 pitches against Meridian under the National Federation‘s new 105-pitch limit for any one day.
Robertson did a more than respectable job against Meridian, allowing no earned runs in five innings. The Trojans had five hits off him -- two by Otter and Lukas Hemenway, who also had four hits in the two games combined, and one by birthday boy Quinn Swanson.
LC’s first run against South Whidbey came on a single by Dylan Vander Yacht and a booming triple by Tyson Cline in the third. A run-scoring sacrifice by leadoff man Colby Flint drove in the first run of a four-run fourth, which also included hits by Langstraat and Shane Whittern to set up RBI singles by Vander Yacht and Robertson.
The wild game included 19 walks and four hit batters (including Flint’s 14th time this season) for both teams combined.
SLESK’S PITCHING BIG
Burkett and Utschynski benefited from pitching against mostly 2A and 3A competition in the 14-team Northwest Conference, which has only four 1A teams.
“Warren has really come along in the last three or four weeks,” Slesk said. “He’s sticking with his fastball more and throwing a lot more strikes.
“And this is our best hitting team of the three in a row that have made state,” he said.