Appearances, of course, can be deceiving.
Behind the slugging of catcher Austin Johnson and the gritty pitching of Alex Hatch, Mountlake Terrace claimed its third Class 3A District 1 championship in five years and a spot in the upcoming state tournament with a 6-3 victory at Everett Memorial Stadium.
Mountlake Terrace got contributions from everyone in the lineup, but it was seniors Johnson and Hatch who led the way. Johnson had three hits in four at-bats -- all for extra bases -- while scoring twice and driving in a third run. And Hatch shrugged off a shaky start to check the Bulldogs on three hits and one run over six innings.
The pivotal inning for the Hawks was the fifth when they pushed across four runs -- all coming with two outs and the bases empty. Center fielder Jalen Pahinui reached with a walk and scored on Johnson's second triple of the game. Second baseman Chris Hall walked and Hatch sent a single into left field for a second run. Designated hitter Josh Fitch walked to load the bases and third baseball Henry Haveman lashed a two-run single to right field.
Haveman was out trying to stretch the hit into a double, but by then the Hawks had turned a 1-1 score into a 5-1 margin.
Mountlake Terrace scored again in the sixth after putting runners at second and third with no outs. Against a drawn-in infield, shortstop J.R. Gaddy chopped a ball to shortstop and right fielder Dominic DeMiero was tossed out at the plate. Gaddy was then thrown out trying to take second, but that putout allowed left fielder Quintin Barnard to dash home safely from third.
All that offense came against WSU-bound Chris McDowell, a lanky 6-foot-6 right-hander who brought a 6-0 record into the game and had pitched a perfect game against Nooksack Valley on April 17.
Despite a five-run deficit, the Bulldogs had some kick left. They scored twice in the bottom of the seventh against Fitch, pitching in relief, but DeMiero made a charging catch in right field for the final out and the Hawks celebrated their district title with a joyful pile of bodies on the infield grass.
"In my sophomore year we won the district championship and went to state, and there was nothing like it," said Johnson, who had a triple, double and triple in his first three at-bats --_ and all before any of his teammates had hit safely. "In my senior year it means so much to get back there, and especially with this team.
"We have 11 seniors and it means a lot to all of us," he said. "We've put in a lot of hard work and it's a great way to end the year."
Hatch, meanwhile, loaded the bases in the first and second innings, but came away having given up just one run. He held Mount Vernon to just one hit over the next four innings and struck six in his last two innings -- including four hitters in the fifth. The first batter reached base after whiffing on a third strike that bounced away from Johnson, so Hatch struck out the next three to end the inning.
"Alex Hatch, wow, give him a lot of credit," Watters said. "He did not pitch well (early in the game), but he battled out there. And then he settled down the last couple of innings and did the job for us."
A record comparison before the game showed Mountlake Terrace, at 13-8, perhaps overmatched against the 20-0 Bulldogs. But the Hawks played a difficult early-season schedule, including losses to Class 4A state tournament teams Lake Stevens and Edmonds-Woodway, and since then they have improved steadily.
"We've gone through some adversity," Watters said. "But this team has been resilient all year. Five of these seniors won a district title two years ago, so they know how to win. ... I've believed in our team all year, and I'm really proud of them."
And on Saturday, Johnson said, "we knew the pressure was on (Mount Vernon). We came in with nothing to lose. We knew they were a good team, but we know how good we are even though maybe our record doesn't show it. But we've been playing really well lately, and we knew we could come in here and get a win."
At Everett Memorial Stadium
Mountlake Terrace 100 041 0--6 7 1
Mount Vernon 010 000 2--3 5 1
Hatch, Fitch (7) and Johnson; McDowell, Pullen (7) and Gibson. WP--Hatch. LP--McDowell . 2B--Johnson (MT). 3B_Johnson (MT) 2. Records--Mountlake Terrace is 14-8, Mount Vernon is 20-1.
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