EVERETT — Time and time again, Meadowdale kept threatening to tie or take the lead.
But Lynnwood kept coming up with big punchouts and key defensive plays to escape jams.
And after prevailing for a white-knuckle win over their rival, the Royals are headed to state.
The top-seeded Lynnwood High School baseball team clinched its first state berth since 2016 with a tense 3-2 victory over fourth-seeded Meadowdale in a Class 3A District 1 Tournament semifinal Tuesday evening at Funko Field.
“It was a total team effort,” first-year Royals coach Scott Watson said. “Everyone contributed today. Sac bunts, pitching, defense. I mean, everything.”
Lynnwood (14-7) and Meadowdale (13-8) entered this district semifinal clash as equals in seemingly every sense. They split the Wesco 3A/2A South title. They split their two-game regular-season series. They had identical overall records.
So fittingly, this latest encounter was an edge-of-the-seat affair.
Trailing 3-1 in the top of the seventh, Meadowdale’s Nolan Webster drew a leadoff walk and Zaid Flynn reached on a one-out throwing error to put runners on second and third.
Broderick Bluhm then pulled a hard-hit grounder down the first-base line that looked like trouble for the Royals.
But Lynnwood senior first baseman Mason Lane blocked the ball with a diving stop, and then picked it up and dived to tag the bag for a key out. A run scored to make it 3-2, but Lane’s stellar defensive play likely kept the tying run from coming home.
“That was clutch,” Watson said. “That was a big play right there. That was a momentum-killer.”
That brought Meadowdale’s No. 3 hitter to the plate, with the tying run on third and two outs.
Lynnwood senior reliever Tommy McMahon, who entered in the previous inning, stayed cool under pressure. He froze the batter for a game-ending called third strike, which sent the Royals into a frenzied celebration.
“I live for those moments,” McMahon said. “Personally, I feel like our team, we don’t fold under pressure.”
Lynnwood, indeed, faced numerous pressure-packed situations over the final few innings. But the Royals kept wiggling out of tight spots. Meadowdale left seven runners on base and stranded five in scoring position.
“We try to stay even-keel — don’t get too excited, don’t get too low,” Watson said of his team’s composure in those high-leverage moments.
In the top of the fourth, Meadowdale’s first two batters reached base. But Lynnwood starter Keenan Masters struck out the next two hitters on filthy curveballs and induced an inning-ending flyout.
In the fifth, Meadowdale’s Nicholas Zardis launched a one-out triple over the right fielder’s head. But Masters escaped trouble again, inducing a popout and an inning-ending strikeout on another hard-breaking curve.
Meadowdale threatened again in the sixth, putting runners on first and second with no outs. The ensuing batter then sent a fly ball to Lynnwood freshman left fielder Sergio Navarro, who made the catch. The runner on second tried to tag up, but Navarro fired a one-hop strike and gunned him out at third base for a pivotal double play that helped the Royals preserve a 2-1 lead.
And in the seventh, Lynnwood tightroped out of yet another threat to emerge victorious.
“It’s just such a relief having a reliable defense,” McMahon said. “You can always count on them.”
Masters, a sophomore left-hander, tossed five-plus strong innings for the Royals. He allowed just one run and five hits, while totaling eight strikeouts and two walks.
McMahon added two quality innings of relief, allowing one unearned run and no hits.
“(Masters) pitched great,” Watson said. “He did his job. If our starters can get us through the fifth, we have a couple pretty good closers in Tommy and Jace (Hampson). … I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
In the bottom of the first, Lane hit a two-out single to center field and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Hampson then lined a single to left field to bring home Lane and give Lynnwood an early 1-0 lead.
Meadowdale answered in the second, when Brandon Brunette crushed a triple to the left-center field gap and scored on a game-tying double by Nicholas Banez.
In the fourth, Hampson lined a leadoff double into the right-center field gap. He then advanced to third on a single and scored on a double play to give the Royals a 2-1 lead.
That remained the score until Lynnwood added a massive insurance run in the bottom of the sixth. Lane led off by reaching on a throwing error, which also allowed him to take second base. Hampson laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Lane to third. Leyon Camantigue, a senior, then lofted a sacrifice fly to center field to make it 3-1.
And with their pitching and defense, that was enough for the Royals to hold on and reach state for the first time since the program made back-to-back 3A state quarterfinal trips in 2015 and 2016.
“It’s obviously a big opportunity,” Watson said. “It means a lot. … I’m proud of the kids.”
Zardis pitched six strong innings for Meadowdale and allowed two earned runs, one unearned run and five hits. The freshman right-hander struck out seven batters and walked one.
The Mavericks have another chance to clinch a state berth Saturday, when they face third-seeded Stanwood in a loser-out contest.
Lynnwood, meanwhile, advanced to face sixth-seeded Edmonds-Woodway in Saturday’s district championship game. Edmonds-Woodway routed 10th-seeded Mountlake Terrace 11-1 in five innings in the other district semifinal.
“It’s nice to be able to put on for the school,” McMahon said. “We represent the black and gold. … It’s an amazing feeling being able to go (to state).”