It was a matter of experience vs. inexperience Saturday as Issaquah cruised past Hazen, 20-2, in the regional-round state baseball tournament at Bellevue’s Bannerwood Park.
A team can’t get much more battle-tested than Issaquah. The Eagles are the defending state champions and won the KingCo tournament last week.
Hazen, on the other hand, hadn’t been to the state tournament for 15 years and has a young team.
“We’re a real young team and we just didn’t make the plays at the beginning of the game that we needed to,” said Hazen coach Chris Chiechi.
The Highlanders have just three seniors on the roster, but coming into the game Hazen had to feel comfortable with senior ace Nathan Bunch on the mound. Bunch stormed through the regular season, striking out 58 batters and walking just seven. But against Issaquah, Bunch lasted just three and a third innings in his shortest start of the season. Bunch labored through 82 pitches, and left with his team down 7-2.
The Hazen defense seemed jittery behind Bunch and committed four errors in the first four innings that extended innings and led to Issaquah runs. Bunch made some good pitches and struck out three batters, but the pressure rose as his defense couldn’t make all of the plays when batters made contact.
“The key for us was getting to the starting pitcher,” said Issaquah coach Rob Reese. “He’s (Bunch) a good pitcher, his team just didn’t play very good defense behind him.”
Reese said the experience difference between the two teams played a huge role in the outcome of the game.
Issaquah starter Jacob Kemmerer wasn’t sharp early in the game. He walked four batters in the first three innings and prompted action in the Issaquah bullpen. Kemmerer settled down and allowed just two singles in the final four innings. He picked up the complete-game win, striking out six and allowing just one earned run.
Once Bunch left the game, the wheels came off for Hazen. Issaquah tacked on seven runs in the fourth and fifth innings as Hazen pitchers Bo Worgan and Derek Cline couldn’t slow the Eagles’ offense.
Issaquah’s Miles Perkins went 3-4 with four RBI and two doubles. Brennan Miller went 4-5 with three RBI and two doubles. Spencer Rogers hit three singles and knocked in three RBI.
Hazen finished 13-7 overall and 12-2 in the Seamount League. The Highlanders finished in second place in the league and played in the state tournament for the first time since 1993.
Issaquah punched its second straight ticket to the Safeco Field and the state semifinals, defeating Franklin Pierce 7-0 later Saturday afternoon.
The Eagles brought out the big bats as Kyle Sutherland came through with a six RBI performance. The senior catcher hit a three-run home run in the first inning and tacked on a bases-clearing double in the seventh to lead Issaquah to victory. Michael Dixon added a solo home run later in the seventh. Tyler Vanderboegh pitched a complete seven innings, allowing just five hits.
Issaquah faces Kennewick at 10 a.m., today at Safeco Field. The winner of today’s game faces the winner of Meadowdale-Kelso in the championship at 4 p.m., tomorrow at Safeco. The losers square off in the third-fourth place game at 10 a.m., tomorrow at Safeco.
Reporter Kevin Endejan contributed to this story.