EVERETT — The Arlington baseball team entered with an unblemished record full of blowout victories and a hard-throwing pitcher who had allowed just two runs all season.
Shorewood wasn’t the least bit intimidated.
The Thunderbirds jumped in front early and rode a complete game by Kenji Miller to clinch a state berth with a 3-1 win over previously unbeaten Arlington in a Class 3A Northwest District Tournament semifinal Tuesday at Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium.
“I told our kids, there’s two things we need to do: We need to have fun, and then believe,” longtime Shorewood coach Wyatt Tonkin said.
“We had to believe. Nobody believed that we could do it. … I told them, ‘David reached in a bag, pulled out a stone, threw the stone and took down Goliath. We can do it.’ And they believed.”
With the victory over mighty Arlington, which had outscored opponents 185-18 this season, the Thunderbirds secured their fourth state regional berth in six years. The win also advanced Shorewood (15-7) to Saturday’s district title game against Everett, which beat Edmonds-Woodway 7-3 in the other semifinal.
“It was surreal, but I knew we could do it deep down if we just believed hard enough that it would happen,” Thunderbirds senior Kaiden Graves said. “And we just kept believing.”
For Arlington, the loss was a bit of deja vu.
This marks the fourth consecutive year the Eagles (21-1) have fallen in the district semifinals. Each of the previous three years, Arlington rebounded in the loser’s bracket to reach state. The Eagles will look to do so a fourth time when they host Meadowdale in a winner-to-state elimination contest Wednesday.
“It would be great to be in the championship, and of course we wanted that, but fortunately there’s still another option,” Arlington coach Scott Striegel said. “We’ve gotta go win a ballgame, and we’ve done this before in the last few years. … I’m pretty confident in our kids to be able to bounce back.”
Arlington senior pitcher Cameron Smith entered Tuesday with a dominant stat line, having allowed just two runs and 10 hits in 39 innings. However, it didn’t take long for the Thunderbirds to put a dent into those numbers.
Shorewood scored three early runs and totaled eight hits — including four doubles — off the hard-throwing right-hander in his five innings of work.
“Yesterday we just cranked up the pitching machine … and we were just hitting the ball all day — preparing, preparing, preparing,” Graves said. “We just went out there and attacked and had confidence.”
Graves finished 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles, leading a strong performance from the Thunderbirds’ 3-4-5 hitters. The heart of Shorewood’s order — Graves, Kevin Hirohata and Bryce Lindberg — went a combined 7-for-12 with three doubles.
“We worked all of the last two days of sitting on fastball, getting fastball counts and not missing fastballs,” Tonkin said, “and we did a pretty good job barreling some up.”
Miller, meanwhile, shut down a formidable Arlington lineup that was batting above .350 for the season and averaging nearly nine runs per contest.
“Kenji threw a masterpiece,” Tonkin said.
The Shorewood lefty junior ace yielded just six hits — three of which were bunt singles — in a sterling complete-game performance. He struck out seven and walked two, keeping the Eagles off-balance by mixing speeds. The only run he allowed came on an inside-the-park homer.
“Give their pitcher a ton of credit,” Striegel said. “He changed speeds and threw his breaking ball for a strike really well. I think (at) any level of baseball, when the pitcher is able to command the zone and throw his breaking ball for a strike, you’re going to win a lot of ballgames.”
In the top of the first, Hirohata lofted a two-out fly ball that Arlington’s right and center fielders lost in the sun, allowing Cameron Highet to score from first for a 1-0 Thunderbirds lead.
Arlington’s Jack Sheward evened the score in the bottom of the frame on a slicing fly ball that landed just beyond the reach of a diving Shorewood right fielder. The ball bounced past him, and Sheward raced around the bases for an inside-the-park home run.
Shorewood regained the lead in the second after Simon Shutts lined a double to the left-field fence and scored on a line-drive single up the middle by David Snell.
In the third, Graves ripped a double over the center fielder’s head and came home on a two-out single by Lindberg to give the Thunderbirds a 3-1 lead.
“We’ve had a reputation at Shorewood as being able to pitch and play defense,” Tonkin said. “All we had to do is hit a little bit.”
Arlington threatened in the bottom of the seventh, using back-to-back bunt singles and a sacrifice bunt to put runners on second and third with one out.
But Miller squashed Arlington’s comeback hopes, retiring the Eagles’ No. 2 and 3 hitters on a strikeout and game-ending groundout to seal the victory. After the final out, Shorewood’s players converged on the infield turf for a frenzied celebration.
“It was the greatest feeling I think I’ve ever had in baseball,” Graves said.
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