By David Pan Weekly Herald sports editor
LYNNWOOD — It’s been quite a ride for Meadowdale as the Mavericks have risen to the top of the Western Conference 3A baseball standings.
Meadowdale has won nine straight games and 13 of its last 14. The Mavericks defeated Shorewood 6-5 to clinch their first outright league title since 1991 in an April 30 game.
So it might be somewhat surprising that Meadowdale coach Bill Hummel said that the ascent to first place in the league, at times, has been like a rollercoaster.
Hummel points to the two-game series sweep over Oak Harbor. The Mavericks edged the Wildcats 1-0 on April 20 and four days later Meadowdale prevailed in a wild 21-13 contest in which the Mavericks jumped out to an 11-0 lead after two and a half innings. Oak Harbor responded with eight runs in the bottom of the third, which prompted Meadowdale to hit back with five runs in the fourth. The Mavericks later tacked on five runs in the sixth and seventh innings to secure the victory.
“It honestly was a little frustrating,” Hummel said of the game. “I was pleased with the way we answered with five runs. We just had some mental lapses on the mound and some defensive lapses.”
The game took two hours and 45 minutes to complete, a sharp contrast to the crisp 75 minutes it took to finish the first contest.
“We’ve been on a bit of rollercoaster,” Hummel said. “We’d have some good games and then we’d have some loose games, at the plate or on defense. We’re trying very hard to get off the rollercoaster.”
Meadowdale appears to have taken a major step toward more consistency with its 11-0 and 10-2 victories over Everett in a two-game series April 26-27.
“We’re just playing well as a team,” said senior Chris Osborne. “Sometimes our pitchers are on and sometimes they’re not. But if our pitchers are off, our offense will pick it up.”
The Mavericks will have the league’s No. 1 seed to this week’s district tournament.
“We had two good games against Everett,” Hummel said. “We had solid pitching and solid defense.”
Meadowdale struggled at the start of the season with its offense but has come on strong, scoring 10 or more runs in four out of the last six games.
“The last half dozen games we’ve swung out bats well,” Hummel said. “Early in the season we were striking out way too much. The kids were trying to do too much at the plate. The kids now understand their roles in the lineup. They’re executing. They’re running the bases extremely well. That’s leading to a lot of runs.
“We’ve had contributions from a lot of guys.”
Matt Hirsch definitely has been leading the way with a slugging percentage of .740. He’s hit five triples this season and actually has more extra base hits than singles.
Osborne also has been having a solid season.
“He just does all the things from an offensive standpoint,” Hummel said. “He does a great job of moving runners from second to third.”
Grantland Over, in some ways, is an unlikely clean-up hitter, Hummel noted.
“We really run our offense effectively through him,” Hummel said. “He can hit and run and he understands how to advance runners. He handles the bat very well. Everyone is understanding their roles.”
The Mavericks were a little anxious at the plate early in the season, Osborne said. It took a while for everyone to get used to the new bats, which have the characteristics of wood.
“With these bats, pitchers really have to throw strikes for you to hit it,” Osborne said. “We just learned how to used the new bats.”
Meadowdale will head to the district playoffs with an advantage in terms of pitching. Actually, the Mavericks have three advantages in starting pitchers Torin Dooley, Sam Herzer and Bill Sullivan. The three have been so effective in getting Meadowdale to the late innings of games that Hummel hasn’t really been able to develop a middle relief pitcher.
“We almost haven’t needed it,” he said. “We’ve had better than expected performances into the sixth and seventh innings from our starters.”
Having three starters could prove to be a significant advantage in districts, especially if Meadowdale falls into the losers’ bracket.
“If we have to win some extra games I feel we have the pitching depth to get through,” Hummel said.
“I feel like they can match up against anyone who’ll be pitching against us,” Osborne added.
Meadowdale just needs to continue to focus on the basics as it heads into the playoffs.
“Pitchers throwing strikes is going to be a big thing, as is being patient at the plate and looking for a pitch to drive,” Osborne said.