The dream of a repeat remained alive Tuesday night.
Behind a stellar defensive performance, the Eastlake 10- and 11-year-old all star baseball team earned a 6-3 state quarterfinal victory over Lake Stevens, staying on the path to matching last year’s 9- and 10-year-old state championship.
“We’re doing our best to get back in there,” head coach Troy Thrun said. “There are only five teams from last year who made it back to state, and we are the only ones left in the undefeated bracket.”
While they kept their district and state record flawless, it wasn’t an easy road. Eastlake found itself trailing 3-0 after one inning — a significant deficit considering they hadn’t given up more than three runs in one of their seven previous games.
“We started slow. There were a couple little nerves I think,” Thrun said.
The situation had potential to get worse in the top of the second when the first two Lake Stevens base runners reached second and third with no outs.
But as they have done throughout district and state, the Eastlake defense came up clutch, snagging a groundball at second and a lineout at short. Pitcher Austin Hooker followed that up with a strikeout.
“I just talked to the kids out there and said ‘You know what, you guys could have folded in that second inning, but we battled back from adversity and that’s the sign of a champion,’” Thrun said.
Eastlake used the momentum of the defense, turning it into offense in the bottom half of the inning. With two outs and a runner on first, Hooker drilled an RBI double to right center field, scoring Joe Longcore. Lucas Thrun followed that up with an RBI infield single.
Eastlake continued to wiggle off the hook with strong defense. With the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, third baseman Andy Varness grabbed a hard hit groundball, tagged the bag at third and threw to second for the double play to end the inning. a ball that rolled to the fence, he launched a ball back in to Lucas Thrun at short, who relayed the ball to Alex Shuey for the out at third.
Eastlake took its first lead of the game in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI single from Mitch Augenstein. Longcore followed that up with a bloop two RBI single to center. Varness, who entered the game as a relief pitcher in the fifth, closed the sixth inning out to clinch the win.
“It’s huge,” said Thrun of staying in the winners’ bracket. “Because what ends up happening is that you play every day. It takes a toll on you. The next thing you know you’re running through pitchers and hitters.”
Eastlake faced the winner of Salmon Creek/Greater Richland last night. If they won, Eastlake will move into a double-elimination championship scenario. They would play at noon on Saturday. In the event of a loss, they will play at 6 p.m. today. All games are at Sunset Park in Auburn. For more information and updated brackets log on to www.littleleaguewa.org.