Rob Reese shook his head, letting out a small smile Saturday evening at Tacoma’s Heidelberg Park.
He knew his Issaquah baseball team was one clutch play away from vying for a state championship for a third straight year at Safeco Field — something few gave them a shot of doing after finishing 8-8, and in fourth place of the KingCo Crest.
“One hit away, it was a great effort by these guys,” Reese said, after Issaquah fell 7-6 to Tahoma, in nine innings.
Down 6-4, headed into the top of the seventh, the Eagles rallied to tie the game for the first time. Mike Paulson looped an RBI double down the left-field line and Brennan Miller drew a one-out, bases-loaded walk to tie the state quarterfinal contest, 6-6.
“They gave us a chance to chip away on offense, we executed, and we tied it up,” Reese said.
The Eagles were unable to push across any more runs, however, as the next two batters, Dustin Talley and Spencer Rogers, struck out.
Issaquah had another shot of taking the lead in the top of the eighth when Marcus Gaan tried to score from third base on a wild pitch. Bear’s pitcher Jerald Casper covered the plate, however, tagging Gaan before he could reach the plate.
“It was a bang-bang play,” Reese said. “The guy caught it and tagged him.”
Issaquah held in the bottom half of the inning when Rogers, who was playing back in centerfield, sprinted forward and dove to make a sprawling catch for the third out.
The Eagles failed to get anything going in the top of the ninth, before the Bears finally capitalized. Tahoma’s Zach Aaker led the inning off with a walk, putting the pressure on Issaquah. A steal, followed by an intentional walk, a sacrifice and another intentional walk, loaded the bases for Heyden Johnson, who drove the game-winning single up the middle off Paulson.
“The difference in the game is that they got one of their leadoff guys on,” Reese said. “They bunted him over and then gave themselves two chances to get ahead. We would always get the rally going after two outs.”
Issaquah trailed by its largest margin, 6-2, in the bottom of the fourth, after Aaker blasted a solo home run over the right field fence. The Eagles got one run back when Rogers scored a double-play ball in the fifth. Rogers added an RBI single in the sixth.
Tahoma took a 3-0 lead in the first inning, getting to freshman starter Ethan Kalin. The Bears pushed runs across on a wild pitch, RBI groundout and a bases loaded walk before reliever Austin O’Neil came in and forced a double play to end the inning. O’Neil pitched 5 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on four hits. Paulson pitched 2 1/3 innings, allowing just one run on two hits.
Reese was happy with his teams’ effort, noting they struggled early and often.
“We weren’t very good early in the season, and we’ve come a long way,” he said. “They should be proud.”
Tahoma moved on to face Puyallup in the state semifinals, Friday at Safeco Field. The winner of that game will play the winner of Newport-Richland for the state championship.
Issaquah 7, South Kitsap 1
Issaquah dominated South Kitsap Saturday morning in the first round of the 4A state tournament. Starter Shane Yarnell struck out the side and the first inning rolled from there. He struck out a season-high 11 batters, and allowed just five hits in the complete-game victory.
Issaquah took a 2-0 lead after one inning, helped by an RBI double from Miles Perkins. Brennan Miller, who was 2-for-3 at the plate, added an RBI single in the third. Devin O’Donnell and Spencer Rogers also added RBI hits. South Kitsap committed seven errors in the game, three of which resulted in Issaquah runs.