The deficit was far from overwhelming. Tumwater had rallied from several similar situations over the season, but in the end, the Thunderbirds simply could not figure out Liberty pitcher Nate Steffens.
“He was sneaky enough to get us to pop up,” Tumwater coach Clay Hill said about the senior. “He was crafty enough where we never got good swings in a row on him.”
Steffens pitched six strong innings, striking out eight, and the Patriots — aided by a stout defense, some timely hits and a couple costly T-Birds errors — put an end to Tumwater’s season with a 3-0 victory in the Class 2A Region III baseball tournament at Wheeler Field in Centralia on Saturday.
The T-Birds finish the year 16-7, falling two wins shy of advancing to the state semifinals for a third consecutive season.
“I’m happy about this year,” said Hill, whose roster featured five seniors and plenty of youth. “We weren’t even supposed to get remotely close to this far. I’m proud of these guys. We put it together at the end of the season and rallied. We won districts and got this far. I thought we were getting hot at the right time. It just came up a couple games short.”
Liberty, out of Issaquah, entered the game with a sub-.500 record at 10-14.
It really didn’t matter what the Patriots did during the regular season. They were playoff bound regardless of how many losses they suffered.
In a truly bizarre scenario, both 2A teams, which also included 1-19 Sammamish from the 3A/2A KingCo, were guaranteed postseason berths no matter what the squads’ win-loss records were.
The Patriots, who finished fourth in their district tournament, certainly proved their worth by knocking off Tumwater before advancing to the state semifinals with a 4-3 victory over North Kitsap in the following round.
Liberty led 2-0 after the first, getting two hits and taking advantage of the T-Birds’ first error.
A triple from Torey Anderson drove in the first run. The sophomore added the Patriots’ second run of the inning after tagging up on a pop-up.
“We just didn’t respond back,” Hill said. “We hurt ourselves in the beginning and just didn’t get it going.”
Back-to-back errors by Tumwater in the third helped Anderson score a second time. It was all the offense Liberty would need.
Half of Tumwater’s six hits came in the final two innings, but the four errors the T-Birds registered loomed large throughout the game.
Keenan Milligan’s double with one out in the sixth appeared to give Tumwater some life, but Steffens got the next batter, Riley Owen, to fly out to left field.
Tanner Angel then reached first after being hit by a pitch. Steffens ended the threat by striking out Sam Jones on three pitches.
Noah Sirkel opened the seventh for Tumwater with a single before consecutive flyouts put the T-Birds on the brink. Noah Andrews collected his second single of the game to bring the tying run to the plate.
Patriots reliever Sam Harrington, however, closed out the game by striking out Austin Pullar.
Shorewood 7, Auburn Mountainview 4: The final out to a long day was harmlessly retired with an easy fly ball to center and Cole McKisson took a step off the mound. The senior reared back and shot an imaginary arrow into the sky, mimicking the signature move of Seattle Mariners closer Fernando Rodney.
Baths of water and Gatorade followed, and even a mustard chugging contest. After a grueling day of baseball, which saw Shorewood play 19 innings over two games, the celebration was in full gear after the Thunderbirds triumphed over Auburn Mountainview, 7-4, at Bannerwood Park in Bellevue.
The win gives Shorewood (21-4) a second consecutive berth in the Class 3A state semifinals, where it will face Central Kitsap on Friday at 7 p.m. at Husky Ballpark.
The Lions (22-2) are eliminated.
“There were a lot of people, because we had a lot of seniors last year, they said that we wouldn’t have as good a season as we did last year,” said McKisson, who picked up the save in the first game and a win in the second. “We came together really a lot as a team this year and we had that good team chemistry.”
Auburn Mountainview beat Seattle Prep, 8-1, in the morning game, with pitcher Justin Marsden striking out 11 in six innings to earn the win.
Auburn Mountainview jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the top of the first. Shorewood answered in the bottom of the frame with five runs and didn’t look back. McKisson pitched a complete game, striking out nine.
“I just sat on the bench the first 11 innings of the first game (a 1-0 win over Lake Washington), so I didn’t have to do a lot,” McKisson said. “Coming out and closing [the first game], I felt like the man, so I went out there thinking I was the man. First inning got to me a little bit, but I got through it and I’m really tired right now.”
Central Kitsap 13, O’Dea 0 (5 innings): The Cougars advanced to the 3A state semifinals for the first time in school history after a pair of wins over Eastside Catholic and O’Dea.
Griffin McCormick allowed just one hit in the five-inning win over O’Dea, which allowed nine unearned runs.
The Cougars advance to face Shorewood at 7 p.m. Friday at Husky Ballpark.
Centralia 10, Fife 4: The Trojans’ state run ended in the 2A state quarterfinals after beating Cheney, 8-2, for its first state victory in school history.
The 2A South Puget Sound League champion Trojans finish 23-3.
Selah 10, Franklin Pierce 2: The Cardinals fell behind 7-0 after three innings and ended their season in the opening round of the state tournament.
Sullivan Wheelock drove in a pair of runs for Franklin Pierce (13-11).
South Whidbey 3, Cascade Christian 1: After a win in the morning over Meridian, the Cougars weren’t able to continue the momentum into their state quarterfinal matchup against the Falcons.
Cascade beat Meridian, 2-1, to advance to the quarterfinals with Tyler Fox striking out six and Blake Sanderson scoring the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh.
Pe Ell-Willapa Valley 8, Life Christian 7: Xavier Jonas had three of the Eagles five hits in a 2B state tournament opening round loss.
Life Christian had five runners in scoring position left on base throughout the season-ending defeat.
"It was just a bad game today," Life Christian coach Gregg Leach said. "We didn't play consistently. We had a lot of chances early and just didn't capitalize."
The Eagles certainly got opportunistic in the sixth inning, scoring all seven of their runs in an offensive outburst that chased two Pe Ell pitchers and left the bases loaded when the third out struck.
Jonas drove in two runs and scored himself in the sixth as a nice indication of Life Christian's future.
"We lost a lot of seniors," Leach said in retrospect of the season-ender. "The seniors laid a strong foundation. They led by great example. It was a real enjoyable year."
Pomeroy 5, Mount Rainier Lutheran 3: Justin Stewart drove in Erik Kozakowski with a single in the seventh inning, but the Hawks weren’t able to muster more than that as their late rally fell short.
Mount Rainier Lutheran lost in the opening round of the 1B state tournament for the second consecutive year.
“I feel bad for my guys,” Hawks coach Earl Davis said. “They’ve worked hard the past few years.”
Mount Rainier Lutheran got a sacrifice fly in the first inning and Elizabeth Foxley drove in a run in the third with a bases-loaded walk, but the Hawks were held to three hits.
Staff writers TJ Cotterill and Brendan Funtek and Seattle Times reporter Josh Liebeskind contributed to this report