While fans at Bannerwood Stadium reaped the benefits of the beautiful sunny weather Saturday afternoon, the Mercer Island baseball team, playing its second game within 90 minutes of the end of their 11-1 win over Sammamish, clearly let the sun wear them down. Errors and mental mistakes were abundant as the Lake Washington Kangaroos knocked off the Islanders 6-2 to eliminate the Islanders from further postseason contention.
Junior David Oppenheim hinted at a positive outcome for Mercer Island right out of the gates though as he took the third pitch of the ball game about 340 feet out past the right field fence to go up 1-0 instantly. From there though, everything went wrong for the Islanders.
Just two batters into the bottom of the first, typically sure handed shortstop Evan Thompson had trouble handling a ball coming his way, which set up a situation of runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs. Starter George Jiranek induced power hitter Bob Cruikshank into a groundball which would have potentially been the third out. Then, LW starting pitcher Zach Johnson grounded to first baseman Max Dammeier, who, in an attempt to cut down Chris Moore at the plate, left the throw too short and allowed Moore to score. The groundout could have been the third out of the inning. Instead, both runs (the Kangs added another run on a sac fly) went unearned in the bottom of the first. “You can’t afford to give extra outs, especially to good teams,” said MI head coach Cory Smith.
In the top of the second, the first of a few Islander base-running gaffs was committed when Brian Higgins, who had doubled to reach second, was picked off after taking too large a lead. The pickoff ended the inning.
The Kangs wasted no time in capitalizing on the blunder. The first four hitters reached with hits, including Nori Shimizu, who, in an attempt to simply create a sac bunt, reached after nobody bothered to cover first. Shimizu would score on a two run single by Moore later in the inning. Already trailing 5-1, Steve Semler sent a base hit into center. Runner Nick Johnson, who was on second base before the hit, was able to score easily after center fielder Jordan Richartz overran the ball in center, eliminating any chance for a close play at the plate.
Although the Kangaroos would not score again, they didn’t need much run support to back their starting pitcher, Johnson. Even when he got into trouble, Mercer Island helped bail him out. A double by David Oppenehim in the third put runners on second and third with only one out but Oppenheim overran second base and was thrown out to acquire the second out. Thompson popped out after that to end any potential threat.
Even as Jiranek settled in to control the Kang offense, his own team’s offense couldn’t muster much for him. Despite getting ten runners on base, they could only score two. Their best opportunity came in the top of the sixth when they loaded the bases with one out. Freshman Chris Lawler grounded into a fielder’s choice which brought home one, but didn’t fulfill the full potential the situation offered.
Amongst a tough day at the ballpark, Oppenheim stood out in his final game of the season, going 3-4 with two doubles and the homer. The three seniors in the lineup (Thompson, Jiranek and Jordan Richartz) struggled in their final game, combining to go 0-8 at the plate with a walk and committing two errors in the field. On the mound, Jiranek’s numbers don’t quite indicate how well he threw. He threw all six innings, allowing seven hits and three walks while striking out four. “It’s been the story of his season. He hasn’t had a lot of support behind him, both on defense and offense,” said Smith.
The season’s final game is very representative of the entire season: unfulfilled potential. Whether it be slow starts to games, giving up late rallies or Max Dammeier’s potentially dominant arm not being dominant enough, the team had the potential to win KingCo and could have certainly gone deep into the state tournament as well. While they will lose some great talent, the team brings a ton of young potential to the table next year. Current sophomores Isak Morris, Brian Higgins and Matt Orehek along with freshman Chris Lawler, along with freshman Chris Lawler, all offered previews this season to the impact they can make next year. In addition to all the younger blood, next year’s senior class will have a lot to offer: Dammeier will look to return to the kind of pitcher Islander fans saw in the season opener at Newport. Oppenehim and Cameron Ogard will each provide some big bats to power the offense next season as well.
Until March rolls around though, all they can do is soak up the summer sun.