With two very opposite performances, an offensive clinic and then a game fully lacking offense, against the Liberty Patriots earlier in the season, it was a tossup as to which type of game the two bitter rivals would play in Tuesday’s 1st round KingCo tournament game at Bannerwood Stadium. Behind a well-rounded offensive effort and a dominating pitching performance, the Mercer Island Islanders were able to comfortably end Liberty’s season with a 10-1 victory.
Both teams got going in the second inning. After multiple threats were taken off the bases by both a pick off from catcher Brian Higgins and starter Max Dammeier threw out a runner at home on a squeeze attempt, Liberty finally cashed in. With two outs and runners on the corners, Liberty’s starting pitcher Isak Styskal attempted to steal second and drew a throw from Higgins. Styskal got in a short run down that was long enough to allow the runner at third, Chris Weik, to score and make it 1-0 Patriots. Islanders coach Cory Smith explained his choice to take the third out instead of attempting to prevent the run from scoring: “Early on, as a coaching staff, we feel confident that one run’s not going to win a ball game against us.”
Mercer Island wasted no time in backing Smith’s philosophy by getting right back at Liberty. With the bases loaded and one out, junior Nick Holstead lined a base hit down the right field line which scored Alex Himstead. With the bases loaded, senior Jordan Richartz was hit by the second pitch of his at bat. Freshman Chris Lawler attempted to tally the third run of the inning after a wild pitch but was gunned down at the plate in a close play. After Evan Thompson drew a walk to reload the bases, David Oppeheim laced a ball into right field. Holstead scored on the play and Richartz was tagged out in a close play to end the damage at three runs.
The Islanders were given a heavy dose of momentum headed into their half of the third after, with one out and a runner on second, Phil Pugel made a great play on a deep fly ball in right. After returning the ball to the infield, the team appealed the tag of Garrett Hughes and won.
On the first pitch he saw from Styskal in the bottom of the third, junior Cameron Ogard reached on a ball hit deep into the whole at short. After an error by the third baseman eliminated a chance to turn a double play and a sacrifice bunt by Himstead, Higgins laced a ball down the third base line which allowed both Ogard and Dammeier to score. Styskal’s 2.1 inning outing ended after that double but his replacement Miles Bruck didn’t stop the bleeding. After the Islanders loaded the bases again, Thompson came up big, lining a single over the shortstop, scoring Lawler and Holstead. Having bat around, Ogard was the second Islander to be hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and the Islanders scored their final of five runs in the third inning to quickly make it 8-1.
With a firm lead below him, Dammeier turned things up another notch. Of the six outs he recorded in the fourth and fifth innings, five of them were strikeouts, three of which came looking. His offense failed to yield either. After Liberty reliever Ben Wessel go the first two outs in just three pitches, things unraveled again for the Patriots. After Thompson doubled and Oppenheim walked, Ogard put another single through the left side of the infield. Thompson and Oppeneheim both scored on the hit to score the tenth run of the night. With Ogard, the potential winning run on second, Dammeier drove a deep fly to center field which was tracked down though.
Dammeier continued to shut Liberty down. Even after walking the leadoff hitter Mitch Askins, Dammeier got a strike out and then induced an inning ending double play to stay out of trouble and set up George Jiranek for an easy seventh inning to close Liberty out and move on in the KingCo tournament.
While many hitters shared the spotlight offensively, Dammeier shined through on the bump in what Smith called “darn near dominant.” He allowed only one hit over six innings of work, the one hit allowed was to Askins, the opening batter of the game. What really tainted his one hit performance were the six walks, although half of those came in the second.
The strong overall performance by the team earns them a spot in the KingCo semifinal against fifth ranked Mount Si, the regular season conference champs. The Islanders got blown out 11-1 in their first meeting but lost a close one 8-7 a few weeks ago back in the valley. Smith expects the Wildcats to throw Reece Karalus for the third time in as many meetings between the two teams. Mercer Island, which is now in a double elimination scenario, will counter with Jiranek on the mound. The first pitch will be Thursday at 7:00 back at Bannerwood.