ARLINGTON — Arlington baseball was tasked with a challenge on Wednesday: Rebound from its only loss of the season, or the program’s run of three consecutive state tournament berths would be over.
The Eagles proved they were up for it, as second-seeded Arlington edged fifth-seeded Meadowdale, 4-3, on Wednesday in a winner-to-state, loser-out contest.
Arlington bounced back after falling, 3-1, to Shorewood in the 3A district semifinals for its first loss of the season.
“The thing I told everyone, as soon as the game was over, that everything was still in front of us,” Arlington coach Scott Striegel said. “Undefeated is the only thing that’s gone and we’re not going to win a district championship, but the district tournament is about getting to state and we did that.
“I absolutely would have wanted to win that game, but it’s more important that we keep winning and we keep going on. … I think these kids showed their true colors and they showed their character.”
Coming through in a decisive spot was junior pitcher Owen Bishop, who earned the win and fanned 12 batters on three days’ rest. Bishop allowed three runs over 5 1/3 innings, but all were unearned.
“I asked Owen last night when we got home how he was feeling and he said, ‘I could have gone today,’” Striegel said. “His offspeed was back in it. His line looked better (in his last start) on Saturday, but his stuff was better today. His breaking ball was back where it needed to be, he was getting ahead in the count and it gives me a lot of hope for next week.”
With his fastball consistently finding its spots and his looping curveball employed as an effective pitch in myriad counts, Bishop said it was the most comfortable he’s felt all year.
His catcher Jack Sheward agreed.
“Owen Bishop threw one heckuva game,” Sheward said. “He was spotting up inside, outside. Good breaking ball and his changeup was working really well. It seemed like he was throwing harder than usual, so maybe his arm is healthier than before this game. All around he was outstanding on the mound and I can’t believe I was a part of it.”
The Eagles did most of their damage in the middle innings.
Andrew Smith’s hard-hit ground ball to third allowed Sheward to score from second to put the Eagles up 1-0.
Cameron Smith then roped an RBI triple to plate Cole Cramer after a throwing error allowed him to reach second to commence the fourth. Andrew Smith thumped a double with two outs in the fifth and Michael Tsoukalas legged out an infield single to score him.
Meadowdale didn’t quit, though.
The Mavericks chased Bishop out of the game in the sixth, as Parker Cumberland worked a walk and later scored on Luke Hunnewell’s RBI single to left. Jacob Burkett relieved Bishop and allowed a two-run single courtesy of Finn Wendt to trim Arlington’s lead to only one.
Sheward moved from behind the plate to the mound and closed out the seventh with a one-two-three frame, quelling any comeback from the Mavericks.
Advancing to state through the loser’s bracket is nothing foreign to the Eagles. Of Arlington’s four consecutive state berths, all have come after failing to clinch their berth in the semifinals.
“I think we came in pretty confident,” Bishop said. “We’ve done a lot of winning this year and we know what it takes. We just did what we had been doing.”
After all, Arlington baseball has bigger goals in its sights.
“It’s just absolutely awesome,” Striegel said of their run of four consecutive state berths. “It’s absolutely awesome the program these seniors built.”