Prep Baseball & Softball

Trojans, Pioneers clinch trips to state

Bellingham Jeff Bearden, who formerly served as a longtime assistant to baseball coach Steve Slesk at Meridian, wrapped Slesk in bear hug down a sun-soaked left-field line at Joe Martin Field and whispered into his ear, “You know your dad was watching that play.”

Both men shared a laugh and then a tear.

“My dad just died,” Slesk explained. “The funeral was yesterday. It was a tough day. It’s been a long two weeks.”

But the Slesks had reason to smile on Saturday, May 9, and why not give the credit to his father — a man “who loved being at the ballpark,” Slesk said. It’s as good a reason as any to explain what happened in the top of the seventh inning of the Trojans’ 1-0 victory over South Whidbey in the semifinals of the Class 1A Bi-District Tournament.

Meridian had runners on second and third in the scoreless game, when Dawson Phillips drew a leadoff walk and Thomas Utschinski’s sacrifice bunt resulted in a throwing error. The next batter up, Erick Price, grounded out to first base, but after fielding the ball and stepping on the bag, Falcons first baseman Trent Fallon noticed Utschinski halfway between second and third.

Both Fallon and Utschinski raced for second base, opening the door for courtesy runner Eli Hinkle to sprint home from third base for the game’s only run on a play that ended up closely resembling a double steal.

“Like I just told the guys,” Slesk joked, “you persevere long enough, and you battle and you battle, and one team’s going to make a mistake, or you keep battling until Thomas screws up on the bases. That was a tough way for them to lose and a tough way for us to win.”

With the win, the Trojans (10-11) move on to the bi-district title game, which is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday, May 16, at Joe Martin Field. They’ll face Nooksack Valley (8-14), which advanced with a come-from-behind 5-3 semifinal win over Cedar Park Christian in eight innings.

Both the Trojans and Pioneers already have locked up trips to the regional round of the state tournament in two weeks. While Meridian ends a one-year absence by advancing for the fifth time in six years, Nooksack Valley will head to state for the first time since 2007.

And Nooksack wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for a three-run seventh-inning rally just to tie the game.

“It’s one of those things where you know you can score three runs at any time,” Nooksack coach Scott Gelwicks said. “We’ve scored three runs in an inning before.”

Brady Wood got this rally started with his one-out single, and Ryan Gelwicks drew a walk. Cedar Park Christian then committed two errors on one play, allowing Wood to score the Pioneers’ first run. Gelwicks scored on Curtis Handy’s ground out before Noah Rawls’ double into the right-field corner plated Taylor Gardner with the tying run.

“We hit the ball all day,” Scott Gelwicks said. “We were putting the ball in play. We weren’t making mistakes defensively. We kept ourselves in the game.”

The biggest reason the Pioneers were still in the game was the pitching of Ryan Gelwicks.

Though he certainly didn’t overpower the Eagles, allowing seven hits and four walks, he limited them to a run in the second and two in the third. He ended up pitching all eight innings and picked up his third strikeout of the game on his 114th pitch for the final out.

“He ties them in knots,” Scott Gelwicks said. “He’s got some stuff that moves around, and he’s smart. I thought if we could get past the fourth or fifth inning and he was still in, we’d have a shot.”

Nooksack Valley was able to score the winning runs in the top of the eighth. Tanner Myhre started things, when he was ruled to have beat out a bunt single down the first-base line on a bang-bang play. He then stole second and scored on a throwing error. Mike Jackson added an insurance run on Cole Mattice’s ground out following another close call when Jackson stole third base.

“I knew we had it once we had the last two runs,” Scott Gelwicks said. “Their heads were ... it’s hard to come back when you’re getting calls you don’t agree with. Baseball is a game where it just kills you if you can’t stay focused.”

Nooksack advanced to the semifinal with a 5-1 win over University Prep in the first round at Sehome when Rawls and Parker Schram combined on a two-hitter. In the two games, Nooksack Valley combined to commit only one error.

Meridian advanced to the semifinals with a 2-0 first-round win over King’s at Joe Martin Field, thanks in large part to a two-hit shutout by Tanner Tutterrow.

Tutterrow needed only 71 pitches, as he faced two over the minimum, striking out five and walking none. After allowing a two-out double to Alex Mason in the first, Tutterrow retired the next 13 Knights he faced until Jacob Hatloe reached on an error to leadoff the sixth. But Tutterrow sent him back to the visitors’ dugout one pitch later when he came off the mound and dove to catch Ben Weeks’ sacrifice bunt attempt and doubled Hatloe off first.

Derek Campfield was almost as impressive in the semifinal, throwing a three-hit shutout. He allowed two walks and struck out five, while using only 76 pitches.

“I felt all along we have the pitching to get there — to a Final Four — just because you’ve got to play doubleheaders this point of the season,” Slesk said. “We’ve got two or three good guys. You play a doubleheader like that on a nice day and don’t give up any runs, it’s a good job.”

The Meridian offense was its own worst enemy in the first five innings against King’s, though, as twice runners got picked off second base with less than two outs. But Dalton Biehle made sure he would not make the same mistake after drawing a leadoff walk in the sixth and advancing on Brady Moore’s sacrifice bunt.

Biehle advanced to third on Tutterrow’s single and scored the first run of the game on Campfield’s sacrifice fly to center field. Courtesy runner Lukas Hemenway added an insurance run on Devyn Holmes’ single to right field, and Tutterrow made the two-run lead stand in the seventh.

Lynden Christian fell behind Cedar Park Christian 4-0 after the first two inning of its first-round game at Joe Martin, and the Lyncs never dug out of the hole.

Left-hander Josh Steventon made sure of that, as he limited the Lyncs to two hits through six innings and struck out eight.

“He was good,” LC coach Desi Luna said. “He was stiff, had a great curveball and he was around the plate. He was just commanding his fastball around the plate. He was tough on us.”

The Lyncs’ only run came in the fourth, when Josh Heutink drew a leadoff walk, advanced to third on two Steventon wild pitches and scored on Marc Meenderinck’s ground ball.

But by then the Eagles already had a four-run advantage, as the first three Cedar Park players all picked up hits and scored in the first and David McLaurin turned a leadoff walk into another run in the second.

Lyncs starter Taiji Van Dalen settled down to keep LC in the game until the fifth, when McLaurin hit a two-run inside-the-park home run to the gap in left-center. Left fielder Tyson Cline and Heutink collided on the play while going for the ball and lay stunned on the field as McLaurin rounded the bases. Both outfielders remained in the game, and Luna said both were fine.

Lynden Christian later lost 10-0 to University Prep in a consolation game at Sehome to end its season with a 3-19 record.

Meridian 2, King’s 0

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WP: Tanner Tutterrow. LP: Alex Mason. Meridian highlights: Tanner Tutterrow 1-3; Derek Campfield 1-1, RB;, Devyn Holmes 1-3, RBI; Dakota Jones 1-3, 2B; Thomas Utschinski 1-2, 2B.

Cedar Park Christian 8, Lynden Christian 1

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WP: Josh Steventon. LP: Taiji Van Dalen. Lynden Christian highlights: Taiji Van Dalen 1-3; Marc Meenderinck RBI; Dylan Meenk 1-3; Tyson Cline 1-2, 2 SB.

Meridian 1, South Whidbey 0

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WP: Derek Campfield. LP: Charlie Patterson. Meridian highlights: Derek Campfield 1-3, Devyn Holmes 1-2, Dakota Jones 1-2, Dawson Phillips 1-2.

Nooksack Valley 5, Cedar Park Christian 3 (8)

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Cedar Park Chr.

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WP: Ryan Gelwicks. LP: Michael Attalah. Nooksack Valley highlights: Curtis Handy 2-3, RBI; Noah Rawls 1-4, 2B, RBI; Tanner Myhre 1-4, R, SB; Mike Jackson 1-4, R, RBI, 2 SB; Brady Wood 2-3, R.

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