However, the Snohomish Panthers decided to spoil the show.
Snohomish used a patient approach at the plate and some timely hitting to knock off the Vikings and their ace 8-2, thus remaining in the hunt for the Wesco 4A North title.
"I think we just came out with the right mindset," said Snohomish senior Tanner Arrington, who went 3-for-5 and also earned the win on the mound. "Kelliher is a good pitcher, but we came out and didn't think too much. We came out and hit the ball hard.
"I think that's kind of a statement game for us," Arrington added. "We had a tough loss to Mount Vernon last week, so we came out here with a little bit of an attitude."
About a dozen major-league scouts — toting radar guns and camcorders — set up shop behind the backstop to evaluate Kelliher, a scene that's become the norm this spring whenever the hard-throwing senior right-hander has started on he mound. Kelliher then proceeded to scorch the guns, regularly registering in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball.
But the Panthers, who have struggled offensively this season, found an unlikely opponent to break out of their slump against. The Snohomish batters took pitches and forced Kelliher to rack up his pitch count. That led to baserunners, and when the Panthers swung the bat they made contact and found the holes in the Lake Stevens defense.
"All season long we've struggled to get clutch hits, we've struggled to score more than three runs a game, and today we put up eight runs and I couldn't be happier," said Snohomish coach Kim Hammons, who noted the Panthers hadn't scored eight runs in a game since beating Jackson 9-0 in their season opener. "There was a lot of clutch hitting and that was the key.
"Kelliher is one of the best, obviously," Hammons added. "He struggled today with his command, and we didn't swing at the ball in the dirt or the ball over our head very often. We happened to get some walks, then we got some clutch hits. We hit the ball up the middle off him pretty well today and it found eyes and got through the infield."
The victory kept Snohomish (8-5 league, 11-5 overall) in the race for first place in the Wesco 4A North. The Panthers caught the Vikings (8-3, 10-5) in the win column, though they have two more losses. The Panthers have three games remaining, including Tuesday's rematch at Snohomish, while Lake Stevens has five games left to play.
"Obviously it's a huge win," Arrington said. "Any time you can beat these guys and stay close to first it's big, because it's going to be us two at the end. Tuesday's going to be a big deal because we're going to have to win that one to get first."
Kelliher finished 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles to lead Lake Stevens.
"It looked like we were coming off a bye week," said Lake Stevens coach Rodger Anderson, whose team hadn't played in seven days. "We can't use that as an excuse. But it seemed like anything that could go wrong did go wrong. When we hit the ball hard it was right at somebody, then they got the little bloops to go in. They did a good job staying with Kelliher, they definitely worked him today. It was one of those days, it's baseball."
Snohomish managed to push a run across in each of the first three innings — Arrington grounded an RBI single up the middle in the first, blooped an RBI single just over the outstretched dive of Lake Stevens shortstop Justin Brown in the second, then Andrew Ivelia drew a bases-loaded walk in the third. However, the Panthers left the bases loaded all three innings, and their 3-1 lead heading into the fourth appeared precarious.
But the Panthers forced Kelliher to throw 88 pitches in those three innings, and he was replaced at the start of the fourth. Snohomish pounced immediately, with Andrew Conrad grounding a single through a drawn-in infield and into center, driving home two more runs and giving the Panthers a 5-1 advantage.
Lake Stevens got one back in the fifth as Kelliher launched a one-out double over Snohomish left fielder Logan Baker's head, then later scored on Jacob Eason's sacrifice fly to center to cut the deficit back to three.
But Snohomish consolidated its lead in the sixth as No. 9 batter Nolan Smith took a two-out two-strike pitch the other way for a double into the left-field corner, bringing home two more runs and making the Panthers' lead safe.
At Lake Stevens H.S.
Snohomish 111 202 1 — 8 11 0
Lake Stevens 100 010 0 — 2 9 3
Tanner Arrington, Jake Mulholland (6) and Ben Dmochowsky, Gavin Bullock (7). Branden Kelliher, Skyler Swords (4), Nick Hoskins (5), Jack Collins (7) and Matt Del Fante. WP—Arrington. LP—Kelliher. 2B—Arrington, Kelliher 2. Records—Snohomish 8-5 league, 11-5 overall. Lake Stevens 8-3, 10-5.
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