By the time Harper Moore escaped the danger of his third consecutive Houdini act, a trip to Yakima felt like the Storm’s destiny rather than a string of good fortune.
Moore, who coach John Inge bills the toughest competitor on the Storm, showed his mental and physical strength while taking Squalicum on a treacherous, wild ride but came out unscathed before Connor Sage relieved the senior starter and finished off Anacortes.
Moore walked six in three innings of work, loaded the bases each inning — once with no outs and twice with only one out — but every time Moore and Squalicum’s defense miraculously found ways to keep Anacortes off the scoreboard.
Moore even overcame a fluky knee injury suffered from celebrating two Storm runs with teammates during the bottom of the first.
“One of the most nerve-racking games I’ve ever been a part of,” Storm senior outfielder Carter Nickelson said. “So much stress goes on every single inning. We got a lot of luck out there, but it was a lot of skill, too, but it just feels so good.”
Last week Squalicum clinched its program’s first state tournament berth. Now the Storm are headed to the state semifinals in Yakima for the first time after earning a 6-1 Class 2A State Tournament quarterfinal win over Northwest Conference rival Anacortes on Saturday, May 23, at the homely confines of Joe Martin Stadium.
The Storm reached the quarterfinals with a 5-0 opening-round win over Sequim earlier in the morning and will face Selah next in the emis at 4 p.m. Friday, May 29, at Yakima County Stadium.
Every inning, one through three against Anacortes, offered the Storm new perils.
Squalicum escaped the first-inning, no-out bases-loaded jam with a double play on a lineout to Ernie Yake followed by a strikeout. Moore tiptoed out of danger again in the second, walking the bases loaded with one out before getting a strikeout and a groundout, and finally in the third, third baseman Tim Lann snagged a hard liner and touched his bag to end the inning.
The Storm’s ability to persevere through adversity, Inge said, is a testament to how mentally strong the group has become.
“Now we expect to get out of that mess,” said the Squalicum coach. “Coach (Vern) Yake has had a lot to do with it, of changing the culture. Our heads were focused. We expect to be better.”
The win was the first over the Seahawks since 2009. Until Saturday, Anacortes had won 10 straight meetings between the two clubs.
Nickelson went 3 for 3 with a walk and a two-RBI single in the sixth, but Kyle Little got the Storm’s offense going early with an RBI triple to deep right-center field in the bottom of the first. An errant throw trying to get Little out at third pushed the Storm senior across home, giving Squalicum a 2-0 lead.
“It was very key, because when we get up the bats start to come around a little bit more just because we have more confidence,” Little said.
Storm catcher Ben Tripp, who delivered a pivotal two-out RBI double during Squalicum’s first game against Sequim, put the Storm in front 3-0 in the bottom of the fourth with a two-out RBI single through the right side of the infield.
Sage coasted on the mound after replacing Moore in the fourth. The junior lefty struck out the side, all looking, in the fourth before giving up a run in the fifth and then retiring the Seahawks in order in the sixth.
Anacortes pitcher Eli Gallo replaced starter Matt Irving in the fifth and walked a batter in to give the Storm a 4-1 advantage before Nickelson drove in two more in the sixth
And in fitting fashion, Sage sealed the game in the seventh only after Anacortes loaded the bases with no outs.
“We feel blessed to beat them,” Inge said. “I wouldn’t say lucky. We got some luck, but we earned it. It was an awesome win for our program, and you know what, we aren’t done yet.”
Squalicum’s ace, David Stealy, threw a complete-game, five-hit gem with six strikeouts and no walks against Sequim.
Tripp and Bunji McLeod put Squalicum in front early 2-0 with a couple RBI, and the two runs looked to be enough the way Stealy was pitching. His breaking ball was lethal, he painted the corners and kept Sequim off the basepaths.
“It’s exciting,” Stealy said. “It was our first state win in school history, so it’s pretty big, really exciting. ... I was just trying to pitch the outside corners, try to make contact. We are one of the best defenses in the Northwest Conference, so I was trying to give them some work.”
And the defense impressively back Stealy all morning.
Tripp set the tone early, throwing out a Sequim would-be basestealer by 5 feet in the bottom of the first, Nickelson showed off his strong arm in the fourth cutting down Sequim’s Alex Hurn at the plate following a single to center and Sage made a heads-up hustle play in the sixth by backing up an overthrow which led to him throwing the Sequim runner out at first when he tried to get back to the bag.
“Once again our defense was really good,” Inge said. “Connor Sage made a phenomenal play backing up first. That was a fantastic play.”
Squalicum provided Stealy more than enough insurance in the top of the seventh, pushing three runs across on a pair of RBI from Nickelson and Kyle Little and a run on a passed ball.
Squalicum 5, Sequim 0
WP: David Stealy. LP: Tanner Rhodefer. Highlights: Sequim: Dusty Bates 1-3; Evan Hurn 1-3, SB; Ian Dennis 1-2. Squalicum: Tim Lann 2-4, R; Bunji McLeod 2-3, RBI; Ben Tripp 1-4, 2B, RBI.
Squalicum 6, Anacortes 1
WP: Harper Moore. LP: Matt Irving. Highlights: Squalicum: Carter Nickelson 3-3, 2 RBI, R, BB; Kyle Little 1-2, 3B, RBI, R, BB; David Stealy 1-2, BB, R; Ernie Yake 1-3, R, BB. Anacortes: Eli Gallo 3-4, 2B, 3B, R; Ty Johnson 3-4, RBI; Jordan Neville 1-4.