Andy Salmeri knows a thing or two about big hits.
Last season, Issaquah’s first baseman lifted the Eagles into the state tournament with a clutch hit in a winner-to-state, loser-out contest against Bainbridge.
The senior matched last year’s feat Saturday afternoon, driving in the winning score on a soft-liner to right field during the KingCo 3A championship against Liberty.
“It was kind of an advantage, because I’d already been in that spot,” he said. “It was a lot better this year, because I’m a senior on the team and we get to go back to state.”
Tied 9-9, Salmeri stepped to the plate in the bottom of the sixth after Kyle Sutherland singled to right and Miles Perkins blistered a double down the left-field line. Salmeri reached out and poked the ball softly into right field, driving in Sutherland. Senior pitcher Tyler Vanderboegh, who entered the game with one out in the top of the sixth, came in and sealed the 10-9 victory by forcing two ground ball outs and a pop up.
“I was hoping we would get a lead and just let Vanderboegh run with it,” Issaquah head coach Rob Reese said.
The victory didn’t come easy for the defending 3A state champions, however. Liberty battled back all game.
“You could tell these guys wanted it. They came out with a lot of fire,” Salmeri said, pointing at the Liberty dugout.
The Eagles led by three runs on three separate occasions, only to have the Patriots come back and tie the score twice — once after being down 6-3, and once after trailing 9-6.
“We answered,” Reese said. “I think that’s the key to the game. We let them tie it, but we never let them take the lead.”
Issaquah generated 14 hits off of Liberty starter Brandon Jeffers, who was playing on limited rest. Sutherland was 4-for-4 at the plate. Spencer Rogers was 2-for-4 with two RBI, Grant Gellatly was 2-for-3 with three runs, Salmeri was 2-for-4 with the key RBI and Mario Sanelli had an RBI triple.
“It was a hitting duel,” Sanelli said. “There were errors everywhere. Both teams were kind of struggling, but it was a game.”
John McLeod led Liberty at the plate, going 3-for-3 with five RBI. Jeffers was 2-for-3 with a two-run double in the sixth, which tied the scored 9-9.
The victory moved Issaquah into the state tournament for the 11th time in the past 15 years. The Eagles open the regional round of state against Hazen at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Bannerwood Park in Bellevue. The winner of that game advances to face either Franklin-Pierce or Capital at 4 p.m. The loser will be eliminated. The winner of the second contest moves on to the state semifinals May 23 at Safeco Field — a possibility that has some thinking “repeat.”
“To win state — we didn’t really think about it this year, but now that we’re here, so close again,” Salmeri said. “We’ve just got to keep going.”
Liberty bounced back in a loser-out contest against Skyline later Saturday night, beating the Spartans 18-5. Skyline led 5-3 after four innings, but Liberty erupted for 15 unanswered runs, five in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings to earn a winner-to-state game with West Seattle. McLeod was 3-for-4 with three RBI, and Chandler Tracy was 5-for-5 with four runs and three RBI. Skyline defeated Newport 8-6 earlier in the afternoon to move into the evening game with Liberty. The Spartans, who won the regular-season league title with a 12-4 record, ended their season 16-7 overall.
Liberty lost its winner-to-state game, 6-3, to West Seattle Tuesday, leaving Issaquah as the only KingCo 3A team in the state field.