MOUNT VERNON — For all the program’s success the past four years during this golden age of Arlington baseball, the state regionals have been particularly cruel to the Eagles.
Despite another victory-filled campaign, the Arlington baseball team’s postseason run once again ended with a crushing regional defeat.
O’Dea blasted a pair of two-run homers and Michael Miner hit a walk-off single as the Fighting Irish rallied to hand Arlington a season-ending 7-6 loss in a heavyweight Class 3A state regional opening-round clash Saturday at Sherman Anderson Field.
“I truly believe we’re the two best teams in the state, and they beat us today,” Eagles coach Scott Striegel said. “And that’s sports.”
The two high-caliber teams entered this state opener with just three losses combined and rosters loaded with talent. The result was a highly entertaining back-and-forth contest — one that was inevitably going to leave a state-title contender heading home early.
After defeating Arlington, O’Dea (23-2) went on to beat Peninsula 12-4 in Saturday’s regional final to earn a spot in next Friday’s state semifinals.
“Give them a ton of credit,” Striegel said. “They swung it well. A couple pitches we missed on, and they squared up and hit a long ways. … It’s the best competition we’ve seen all year.”
Prior to 2016, Arlington hadn’t advanced to state in more than two decades and had reached state just twice in program history. Since then, the Eagles have made four consecutive state appearances and compiled an 83-19 record.
Each of these past four seasons, though, have ended in the state regionals with Arlington falling short of an elusive first-ever state semifinal berth.
This was the third consecutive one-run regional loss for the Eagles, who lost a 10-inning quarterfinal heartbreaker to Edmonds-Woodway two years ago and fell in an opening-round defeat to Eastside Catholic last season.
“It’s a tough tournament,” Striegel said. “If you’re in some sports, you get a loser’s bracket to come back through and you can continue to play. It’s a brutal bracket.”
Arlington (23-2) got off to a rough start Saturday morning when O’Dea’s Ben Patacsil, a University of Portland signee, clobbered a two-run homer over the left-field fence in the bottom of the first. The Fighting Irish, who have at least six players signed or committed to play Division I baseball, added another run in the second for a 3-0 lead.
The Eagles, however, came storming back with a four-run explosion in the fourth. Cole Cramer and Cole Warner connected for run-scoring singles, and Arlington plated two more runs on an error and a bases-loaded walk to surge in front for a 4-3 lead.
The Eagles added on in the fifth, scoring on another Cramer single and a ground-rule double by No. 9 hitter Paul Chung that extended the margin to 6-3.
“Our kids battled (after) getting down a few early, and they showed what they’ve done all year,” Striegel said. “We weren’t undefeated (in the regular season) without being behind in a handful of games and showing that grit to come back. And they showed it today (and) got the lead. Unfortunately, we just weren’t able to hold onto it.”
In the bottom of the fifth, O’Dea cut into the deficit on a towering two-run homer to left field from highly touted sophomore Max Debiec. The Fighting Irish then evened the score on a sixth-inning sacrifice fly that left standout Arlington catcher Jack Sheward visibly hurt on a play at the plate.
With the game tied in the bottom of the seventh, O’Dea’s Ben Schulte reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second and advanced to third on a rare errant throw from the Eagles’ hobbled catcher.
Arlington then walked and intentionally walked the next two batters, loading the bases with one out. That set the stage for Miner, who lined the game-winning single up the middle to send the Fighting Irish into a frenzied celebration and hand the Eagles another heartbreaking state regional loss.
It ended a dominant year for Arlington, which went a perfect 20-0 in the regular season and outscored opponents by more than seven runs per game this spring.
“All year, guys were willing to do the little things to help us win ballgames, and that’s all you ask as a coach,” Striegel said. “It wasn’t about their stats or what looked best in the paper. … It was what wins us ballgames, and that’s just amazing as a coach.”
Yet in the wake of an agonizing end to this success-filled season, Striegel emphasized that this team was special for more than all the victories they piled up.
“It’s about how great of kids these are,” Striegel said. “We won a lot of ballgames, but that’s not what is special about this season. I have two little (children), and they just want to be around these kids. These kids, … they’re great people. They carry themselves well and they really represent Arlington baseball the way we’d want them to.”