EVERETT — Frustrated through five innings by Lake Stevens starting pitcher Taylor Shea, Cascade put the first five hitters aboard in the sixth and turned two walks and three straight singles into three runs.
The result was a 3-1 victory for the Bruins in Thursday night’s Class 4A District 1 baseball championship game at Everett Memorial Stadium.
The outcome gives the Bruins the district’s top seed going into the upcoming state playoffs, and with it the chance to host a regional tournament on May 24.
The district title continues a remarkable turnabout for a Cascade program that won just three games when the team’s senior players were freshmen.
“My freshman year, going 3-17, I never thought we’d be here,” said winning pitcher K.J. Brady, a senior and fourth-year varsity player. “We’re district champs and we get to host a regional, so it’s awesome.”
Lake Stevens, which was denied in its bid to win a third straight district championship, also advances to the regional round as the district’s No. 2 seed.
Thursday’s game was a showdown between Brady and Lake Stevens starter Taylor Shea, two of the top pitchers in the Western Conference. They both pitched superbly through the first four innings, and the score was 0-0 heading to the fifth.
The Vikings struck first, getting a one-out triple to deep left-center field from Justin Brown, who then scored one out later when teammate Corey Bullens blooped a ball into left field that dropped between three fielders for a single.
“They went out and scored in the bottom of the fifth, so we knew we had to answer,” Brady said. “And that’s what we do. We put together good (at-bats) and we get stuff done. … There’s no quit in us at all. If we get down early, we battle back.”
The way Shea was pitching in the early innings, one run looked like it might be enough. He was perfect through three and gave up just one hit through five, but still faced the minimum number of batters after Cascade’s Patrick Chung was called out for oversliding second base on a steal attempt in the fourth.
But in the top of the sixth, Von Ferguson and Brennen Hancock led off with back-to-back walks for the Bruins, both on 3-2 pitches. Cameron McGrath then bunted right back to the mound, and when Shea turned to first there was no one covering, allowing McGrath to reach safely.
With the bases loaded and no outs, Brady bounced a single up the middle for the tying run. Chung then ripped the first pitch he saw into right field for a second run, though McGrath was thrown out at the plate also trying to score from second as Brady advanced to third.
Austin Pinorini struck out, but strike three was a breaking ball in the dirt that got past Lake Stevens catcher Matt Del Fante, allowing Brady to score from third with the inning’s third run.
“We were fortunate to scratch together a couple of good at-bats in the sixth,” said Bruins coach Scott Stencil. “The two walks kind of changed the game, and then K.J. and Patrick both came through with big hits, which they’ve been doing it all year.”
Against Shea, “we struggled early, big time,” Stencil added. “He threw the crap out of the ball. I don’t think we ever really solved him, to be honest. He was throwing hard, his curve ball was on and he was kind of in a zone.
“He’s a heck of a pitcher, but we just happened to get a couple of hits at the right time.”
Brady, meanwhile, went the distance for Cascade, holding the Vikings to five hits, though three went for extra bases. He struck out six and walked one, and with the game on the line in the seventh he retired Lake Stevens in order.
“I thought he did a great job of throwing strikes, changing speeds and trusting his defense to make plays,” Stencil said. “He’s a very fierce competitor who doesn’t like to lose, and we definitely like to have the ball in his hands in a game like this.”
The 19-4 Bruins now head to the loser-out portion of the postseason with high hopes, but little margin for error.
“If we continue to pitch and play defense like we have, we definitely have a chance to make a little run,” Stencil said. “At this point, with 16 teams left, anybody can win it. They’re all going to be good and they all have good pitchers.
“I’m just hoping we play our best game, and if our best game is good enough to win, great. … Hopefully we can keep it rolling.”
At Everett Memorial Stadium
Lake Stevens 000 003 0 — 3 5 1
Cascade 000 010 0 — 1 5 0
K.J. Brady and Von Ferguson; Taylor Shea, Skylar Swords (6) and Matt Del Fante. WP—Brady, LP—Shea. 2B—Cody Vigoren (LS) 2. 3B—Justin Brown (LS). Records—Cascade is 19-4, Lake Stevens is 15-8.