By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
EVERETT — A promising season for the Lake Stevens baseball team came to a heartbreaking close on Saturday night, the result of a game that likewise began encouragingly and ended in crushing disappointment.
After winning the afternoon opener against Skyview, 6-5 in eight innings, Lake Stevens jumped to a 4-0 first-inning lead in the regional final against Puyallup. In a game between teams both nicknamed Vikings, Lake Stevens still led 6-3 after batting in the top of the fourth.
But Puyallup chipped away with two runs in the bottom of the fourth, and then broke the game open with a five-run sixth. All five runs scored with two outs and all after a controversial umpire’s call.
Lake Stevens was retired in order in the top of the seventh, absorbing only its second loss in 25 games this season.
To reach next weekend’s state semifinals and final in Pasco, “you can’t make mistakes,” said Lake Stevens coach Rodger Anderson. And in two Saturday games, “we just made a few too many mistakes,” he said.
Lake Stevens committed four errors in the two games, “and we made some mental mistakes that we hadn’t made earlier in the year,” he added. “But this is a truly special group and they just kept competing.”
Even trailing by four runs in the team’s last at bats, Anderson said, “I still believed.”
The pivotal inning was the sixth, and it was one the Lake Stevens players and coaches will likely remember and replay for years to come. It began well as relief pitcher Dylan Lavelle gave up a leadoff single, but picked the runner off first base. The next batter, Puyallup shortstop Levi Jordan, then drew a walk, setting up the controversy.
Jordan tried to steal second and the throw beat him to the bag. Shortstop Jake Nelson attempted a sweeping tag, but the base umpire ruled the tag had missed.
“I tagged him,” Nelson said. “(The umpire) said I missed, but I didn’t. But what are you going to do?”
The importance of that call — or missed call — became apparent moments later. The third batter popped out, which would have ended the inning had the bases been empty. But instead there were two outs and Puyallup’s Lee Larson smashed a triple off the wall in right field for a run. And when a relay throw to third went awry, Larson scored for a 7-6 lead.
Puyallup still wasn’t done. The next four hitters also reached base safely — two singles and two walks — with another run scoring, and Darian Clemons followed with a double off the wall in left for two more runs and a 10-6 lead.
Lake Stevens finally retired the side, but went 1-2-3 in the seventh, prompting a jubilant celebration among the Puyallup players and the team’s fans. For Lake Stevens, meanwhile, those postgame moments included lots of hugs and a few tears.
Lake Stevens was hurt by the absence of Alex Koeplin, one of the team’s top pitchers who did not play Saturday for disciplinary reasons.
“I hate to say that’s the difference, but who knows?” Anderson said. “Over the last two years he’s been our most consistent pitcher.”
Playoff losses are always abrupt and painful, and particularly for teams with the talent and expectations of Lake Stevens. The squad was anticipating a trip to Pasco next weekend with the chance to play for a coveted state championship, and the anguish of that missed opportunity was obvious and severe.
“Nobody wants this to end,” Anderson said. “All these guys are best friends. They’re like brothers. It’s an incredible group of guys.
“Besides being pretty good baseball players, the character of this team — (including) the parents and everybody else — has made it a really special year,” he said.
As his teammates began to peel away and head for the parking lot, Nelson reflected on the end of his team’s remarkable season.
“We’re all really close,” said the senior, who will play football next season at Central Washington University. “We all really love each other and we all work as one group. We found a way to get it done on the field this season and it showed with our 23-2 record.”
At Everett Memorial Stadium
Nelson, Lavelle (4), Cho (6), Lanto (6) and Merrill; Illies, Ihrig (1), Hall (4) and Stump, Illies (1). WP—Harris. LP—Lavelle. 2B—Nelson (LS), Jordan (P), Clemons (P). 3B—Becker (P), Larson (P). Records—Lake Stevens is 23-2. Puyallup is 21-5.
Lake Stevens 6, Skyview 5 (8 innings)
In a game of miscues, Lake Stevens pushed across the winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning to beat Skyview.
Jake Nelson got the winning rally started when he reached first on an outfield error. Nelson stole second on the next pitch and, after an intentional walk to Dylan Lavelle, Anthony Blackie dropped a bunt down the third base line. The throw to first was in the dirt and skipped past the bag, allowing Nelson to score.
Lake Stevens won despite giving up leads of 3-0 and 5-4. Leadoff hitter Wade Curtis was 2-for-4 with a run, an RBI and a stolen base.
Skyview scored all of its runs without benefit of hits or errors.
At Everett Memorial Stadium
Hamilton, Webb (5) and Brooks; Blackie, Kelliher (5) and Merrill. WP—Kelliher. LP—Webb. 2B—Maney (S), Shouman (LS). Records—Skyview is 17-7, Lake Stevens is 23-1.