By TIM WATANABE
To anyone following 4A Kingco baseball, just one week ago it would have been unfathomable to think that the Redmond Mustangs, ranked second in the state and riding a 10-game win streak going into the league tournament, would have the misfortune of being knocked out in the second round of the loser’s bracket.
But that’s precisely what happened as the Issaquah Eagles outslugged the Mustangs 13-7 on Tuesday night, leaving one stunned clubhouse to wonder what could have been, and another with high hopes to make it to the 4A state championship.
The story of the game was the pitching, as the tight playoff scheduling rendered Redmond staff aces Dylan Davis and Mac Acker unusable to start Tuesday’s crucial loser-out game, forcing head coach Dan Pudwill to send a crew of inexperienced hurlers to the mound and perform under the big-game pressure of the playoffs.
“We rode them to our regular-season record,” said Pudwill of Davis (8-0) and Acker (5-2). “But with the playoff schedule, it didn’t allow us to go with the pitching staff that we really wanted.”
The Eagles sent junior Spencer Rogers to the mound, looking to avenge his 3-2 loss to the Mustangs during the final game of the season last week.
Rogers pitched no-hit ball until the fourth, but by then the red-hot Issaquah bats had built up a 8-1 lead.
“He was real tired going in,” said Issaquah head coach Rob Reese on Rogers. “But he gave us four innings, and the bullpen stepped up from there.”
DIGGING A DEEP HOLE
Redmond Sophomore Zach Abbruzza, who amassed a 3-0 record during the regular season but got lit up during the Mustangs’ 12-10 win over Inglemoor in the tournament opener, struggled from the get-go, surrendering four straight hits in the first inning to the heart of the Eagle lineup as Issaquah jumped out to a 4-0 lead.
“I think the key was getting the lead (early) and putting the pressure on the higher-seeded team,” admitted Reese. “That was a huge advantage.”
The Eagles’ offensive onslaught continued in the pivotal fourth inning as they plated four more on five hits, including a two-run single up the middle by third baseman Marcus Gann, just under the glove of diving second baseman Josh Bircher.
With their backs to the wall down 8-1, Redmond bats caught fire.
It began with Davis, who laced a full-count single up the middle, and then No. 5 hitter Michael Conforto, who tied Davis for the league lead in home runs with six, blasted a shot to right field that just cleared the 325-foot fence.
Four out of the next five batters reached base, and all of a sudden Issaquah’s lead was narrowed to 8-5.
The Eagles, however, behind the strong relief pitching of Austin O’Neil, kept the Mustangs at bay and eventually put the game out of reach with two in the sixth and three in the seventh, when the desperate Mustangs brought in Davis to pitch, the team’s sixth pitcher of the evening.
“We faced (Redmond) last week and played them close, so we just wanted to go out and play like we have the last couple games,” said Issaquah starting pitcher Spencer Rogers, who gave up five runs in four innings of work. “We’ve been hitting pretty good.”
The Eagles pounded out their 13 runs on 13 hits, led by junior Devin O’Donnell who went 3 for 5 with four RBIs and a home run away from the cycle. Senior Michael Dixon had a perfect 3 for 3 night with a double, three runs scored and three RBIs.
With Tuesday’s loser-out game behind them, the Eagles will play a seeding game on Thursday at 4 p.m. against Inglemoor, which blasted Skyline 11-4 on Tuesday night. Win or lose, they will play again on Saturday in a loser-out pigtail game with a team from the Greater St. Helens League with a state berth on the line.
“Our backs were to the wallâ€”the kids didn’t want the season to end,” said Reese of his team’s effort. “Redmond’s a great team, ranked second in the state and have a powerful lineup, but our bats have really been on fire. We just needed to outscore them and we did.”
And the players can feel everything coming to a head during the postseason, when it matters most.
“We got a lot of confidence and we’re swinging it well, I think we scored 38 runs the first three games,” Rogers said. “We’ve got to pick it up a little bit in the field, but I think we’ll be fine.”