EVERETT — The Monroe baseball team has had a flair for the dramatic lately, but there was no need for a walkoff game-winner this time.
And no need for a win-or-go-home game Saturday.
The Bearcats stormed to a commanding lead and clinched their first state berth in 23 years with a 9-5 win over Issaquah in a Class 4A Wes-King Bi-District Tournament consolation game Friday at Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium.
“It’s absolutely unreal,” Monroe senior Kegan Velie said. “Coming into this season, I thought we were just going to be an average team, but this bond that we’ve created throughout this year is just something that I don’t ever want to lose.
“We are a team of brothers. We work together. We’ve worked all season to get here, and I think we’ve deserved this more than anyone else.”
With the victory, the Bearcats (17-6) secured a spot in next Saturday’s state regionals. It’s the first state berth for Monroe since 1996.
Issaquah (15-9) will get another chance to clinch a state berth Saturday night, when the Eagles face Cascade in a winner-to-state elimination game at 7 p.m. at Bannerwood Park in Bellevue.
Monroe, the Wesco 4A No. 2 seed, entered Friday coming off a roller-coaster of emotions in its first two bi-district tournament games.
In last Saturday’s quarterfinals, the Bearcats earned their third walkoff win in 18 days, beating Eastlake 3-2 on Andrew Haight’s game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth.
Monroe then was on the verge of clinching a state berth in Tuesday’s semifinals, taking a 7-2 lead into the sixth inning against KingCo 4A champion Skyline. But the Spartans rallied for seven runs in the bottom of the sixth — scoring five runs with two outs — to hand the Bearcats a brutal 9-7 loss.
“We hadn’t given up seven runs (all) year, and we gave up seven in one inning,” Monroe coach Eric Chartrand said. “It just was a fluke inning for this team, and so I think everyone just put that behind them.”
The Bearcats certainly showed no hangover in Friday’s contest, riding four extra-base hits to a 9-2 lead through four innings. Monroe’s nine runs were tied for its most since the season opener.
“We really have come around,” Chartrand said of his team’s hitting. “I think the approach of staying hard in the middle, trying to get the ball in play and fighting every at-bat — they’ve really bought into it, so I’m super proud of them. That was a real struggle early on to plate runs, so it’s good to be peaking at the right time with the sticks.”
The Bearcats opened the scoring in the bottom of the second, when Gage Kirschenmann lined a two-run triple that Issaquah’s center fielder lost in the sun. Kirschenmann then scored on a sacrifice fly by Elijah Moore to give Monroe a 3-0 lead.
Then after KingCo No. 4 seed Issaquah scored a run in the top of the third, the Bearcats answered back with four runs in the bottom of the frame. Cleanup hitter Grant Davis cleared the bases with a three-run triple into the left-center field gap, then came home on a Haight sacrifice fly to make it 7-1.
In the fourth, Luke Klein launched an opposite-field two-run double into the right-center field gap to extend the Bearcats’ lead to 9-2.
“I think it was just our mindset of doing what we do best,” Klein said. “We’re not the biggest group of guys. We just work on getting straight through the ball (and) hitting good solid contact, … and that’s what we did today.”
Monroe starter Luke Zmolik pitched five innings and escaped several jams with minimal damage. The sophomore right-hander allowed eight hits but limited the Eagles to three runs — just two of which were earned — while stranding seven Issaquah base-runners.
“He did not have his best stuff tonight, (but) he just went out there and pitched his heart out,” Chartrand said. “He’s been like that all season long. He’s been really, really solid for us. … He did an excellent job.”
Highly touted sophomore pitcher Ryan Lynch, making his second appearance since returning from a three-week layoff, closed the final two innings for the Bearcats.
After fanning the final batter on a devastating curveball for a game-ending called third strike, Monroe’s players hugged Lynch and celebrated their state-clinching victory.
“This has been building,” said Chartrand, who’s in his ninth season at the program’s helm. “When you build a program, it doesn’t come overnight. They have to be in these tough games and they have to experience some pitfalls before they can actually get through them.
“This group of boys, they deserve it,” he added. “They’ve worked super hard all season long. They’ve stayed together as a family, and I’m super proud of them.”