It’s a simple axiom of baseball: You have to put runners on base to score runs.
For three games during the Class 1A Bi-District Tournament, the Meridian baseball team tempted fate, collecting a total of 12 hits in three games. Somehow, the Trojans milked the most out of those four hits per game and got strong pitching and sound defense to escape with three straight wins and a bi-district trophy.
But it was almost like the Volunteer Field press box crew knew what it was doing when it chose to play Molly Hatchet’s “Flirtin’ With Disaster’ over the sound system as Meridian and Cascade Christian warmed up prior to their first-round game in the Anacortes Regional of the Class 1A State Tournament on Saturday, May 23.
This time disaster got the better of the Trojans, pulling the carpet right out from under them when they had their eyes focused on reaching the regional final and potentially earning a fourth trip to Yakima and the Final Four in six years.
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With Meridian generating only three hits offensively, Cascade Christian was able to capitalize on a hard-luck error in the top of the seventh inning, allowing Blake Sanderson to score from third base, as the Cougars handed the Trojans a 2-1 loss, ending their season.
Meridian second baseman Brady Moore made a tremendous play to stop a two-out grounder hit by Bryce Powers, having to stop his momentum toward second base after the Cougars started the base runners and dive back the other way just to knock the ball down. But as he got up and tried to transfer the ball into his throwing hand for what would have been a hurried throw to first for the final out of the inning, the ball flipped up in the air. Though the play certainly could have been ruled an infield hit, it was the opening Sanderson needed to break the 1-1 tie.
“That’s a tough one,” Meridian coach Steve Slesk said. “If it’s not stuck in there good, it has a chance of popping out. But the kid made a (heck) of a play. That’s too bad, but that’s how it goes.”
And it certainly wasn’t the reason Meridan (11-12) came up short Saturday.
A lack of base runners, on the other hand, absolutely was.
“That’s been our bugaboo all year,” Slesk said. “We’re pretty fundamentally sound pitching- and defense-wise, but you’ve got to put some hits together. We just did not hit well enough to put pressure on them, and we missed some signs and some steals. We just didn’t play good enough today.”
Derek Campfield got a hit in the first inning, and Tanner Tutterrow picked up one in the third, but that was all the Trojans would get, until Dawson Phillips’ one-out bloop single in the bottom of the seventh. And Meridian failed to move any of the three base runners to second following those hits.
Add in a pair of walks, a batter hit-by-pitch and one player reaching on an error, and the Trojans managed a total of seven base runners Saturday, one of which was erased on a double play when it was ruled he made an illegal slide into second base in an attempt to break up a double play in the third.
Cascade Christian starter Tyler Fox definitely was effective but not overpowering, though he did strike out six and allowed just three balls out of the infield.
“He’s good,” Slesk said. “His curveball is nice and tight. ... When we chased stuff up, it was tough on us. ... We need to take care of ourselves and get a little more at the plate.”
Campfield was equal to Fox on the mound for Meridian, limiting the Cougars to two hits through the first six innings, before they doubled that total in the decisive seventh, and Campfield usually worked ahead in the count.
The one time he didn’t was to the game’s first batter, Austin Carder, who drew a leadoff walk and scored the first run on a passed ball.
But Campfield did not issue another walk and struck out three.
“He pitched well enough to win,” Slesk said of his starter. “No question about it, he pitched a good game. We drop a ball that gets behind us — it’s a strike — that scores a run. We were within inches of getting that last ground ball there. It’s a tough-luck loss for Derek.”
Meridian evened the score in the second inning, when Dakota Jones reached on a two-base error and scored when Tom Utschinski started a double steal, creating a second Cougar miscue.
Despite the loss, Slesk said he was pleased with what the Trojans accomplished in 2015.
“Halfway through the year, our kids could have caved,” Slesk said. “We were struggling, there’s no doubt about it, and we had some guys not in the right spots. But our kids didn’t give up, they didn’t give in and they kept battling. They continued to believe until the very end, and that’s what it takes.”
The Trojans listed four seniors on their state roster: Tutterrow, Erick Price, Utschinski and Dalton Biehle.
“We’re going to miss them,” Slesk said. “They meant a lot to the program, starting with Tanner. He’s started with us for four years. He’s really a go-to guy in our program right now. He’s the one that leads by example and if somebody needed to hear something. He would lead around the school when we’re not there. He would back the baseball program. He was just a great ambassador. I think the other seniors took his lead.”
Cascade Christian 2, Meridian 1
WP: Tyler Fox. LP: Derek Campfield. Meridian highlights: Tanner Tutterrow 1-3, Derek Camfield 1-3, Dawson Phillips 1-3.