By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
LAKE STEVENS — In baseball batters have to take advantage of what the pitcher throws them — or in some cases a lack of what the pitcher throws them.
In other words: strikes.
It was that strategy — patience at the plate as Lake Stevens starter Branden Kelliher struggled with his command — that worked best for the Snohomish Panthers in Tuesday’s 5-1 victory over the Vikings. Snohomish batters walked four times and another was hit by a pitch in a three-run fifth inning that gave the Panthers control of the 4A Wesco North game.
The win gave the Panthers the top North seed in the upcoming district tournament.
The game started out as a great pitching duel between two of the best starters in the league: Snohomish’s Russell Crippen and Lake Stevens’ Branden Kelliher. Each player gave up one run in the third inning, but were pitching well.
That changed in the fifth inning when Kelliher struggled to find his control. With one out Kelliher walked Crippen, hit the next batter, Mitchell McCulley, and followed that by walking Andrew Ivelia. Without a hit in the inning, the Panthers loaded the bases.
“Our hitting coach Andrew Reifers has really preached discipline and looking at zoning up on a pitch and that’s exactly what they did today,” Snohomish head coach Kim Hammons said. “And they laid off the high fastball. That’s something that is hard to do with Kelliher because he really brings it and you don’t have a lot of time to think.”
Though he was in a jam, Kelliher still couldn’t find his control, walking Tanner Arrington to scored Crippen and give the Panthers a 2-1 lead. With the bases still loaded after the walk, Kelliher came back to record the second out by striking out Kyle Gionet. But the Panthers weren’t done yet, Haakon Lande delivered Snohomish’s only hit in the inning, a double to right-center field to score McCulley and Ivelia and break the game open.
“He started me off with a fastball low and away and then I knew he had to get even again,” Lande said. “So he just threw me an outside fastball and I jumped on it.”
Kelliher pitched five innings, giving up just three hits. But he walked six and hit two batters in his first loss of the season.
In the bottom of the sixth inning it was Crippen that had control issues. Eight of the first nine pitches he threw in the inning were balls as he walked the first two batters. He came back to get a strike out, but the following batter, Jimmy Billings reached and loaded the bases when the catcher Ben Johnston was called for interference.
With the bases loaded and only one out the Vikings were in a position to get back into the game. Crippen wasted little time closing that door, though, getting Zach Tetrick to ground into a 1-2-3 double play and end the inning.
“Big time players make big time plays,” Lake Stevens head coach Rodger Anderson said. “He threw a great pitch and it went right back at him and he made the play. They are a better defensive team than I think people give them credit for.”
Crippen threw a complete game and gave up just four hits, but walked seven.
“Crippen threw well even though he struggled,” Hammons said. “He gave me more gray hairs today than he has in the last three years.”
After the game, Anderson was surprised that both pitchers struggled with control issues.
“It shocked me because that umpire had a pretty big (strike) zone,” he said. “And the last couple of outings Kelliher has been pitching complete games and I know Crippen has too. So I know those guys have been throwing strikes.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Lake Stevens H.S.
Russell Crippen and Ben Johnston. Branden Kelliher, Skyler Swords (6) and Matt Delfante. WP—Crippen. LP—Kelliher. 2B—Logan Baker (S), Haakon Lande (S), Ben Dmochowsky (S), Justin Brown (LS), Gavin O’Neil (LS). Records—Snohomish 13-1 league, 14-3 overall. Lake Stevens 7-5, 8-8.