PASCO — Mercer Island baseball coach Dominic Woody said he always felt his team was better than the No. 12 seed it was given by the Class 3A state tournament seeding committee.
“We were ranked inside the top 10 in RPI all year until the district tournament,” Woody said. “Who knew what (the RPI) was going to be like using it this first year? I knew we were better than a 12 seed.”
Woody’s Islanders showed it Saturday night, beating the Kennewick Lions 8-4 in the Class 3A state baseball championships at Gesa Stadium.
For Mercer Island, it was its second state title in eight years — both under Woody’s watch.
In Saturday’s title game, the Islanders jumped on Lions starter Leyton Lind for four runs in the first inning.
Kaden Wu drove in a run with a double, Alex Henderson followed with a two-run double and Cutter Werdel finished the inning with an RBI single, as Lind — a sophomore who was named the Mid-Columbia Conference pitcher of the year — struggled and went deep into the pitch count with 38 just in the first inning. This was important for Woody’s team all weekend.
Mercer Island added a run in the second when Wu had another RBI single; two more in the third, and one in the fifth.
But what really shined was the Islanders pitching.
Starter Evan Otte handcuffed a Lions team that had brought the lumber all season. Kennewick (23-4) came into the contest averaging over 10 runs a game.
But Otte held them to four runs, with just a three-run fifth by Kennewick a major blotch on the right-hander’s night. He finished with six innings, scattering seven hits, and four strikeouts.
“I was just trying to attack the zone,” Otte said. “I get a 4-0 lead before I go out there, and I told myself to give them no freebies. No walks. Throw changeups and sliders. Going out there with that kind of lead, it’s perfect. It’s just what I wanted.”
It was the perfect weekend for Mercer Island.
The Islanders (19-6) were able to handle West Seattle ace Miles Gosztola in Friday night’s 3-1 semifinal victory.
Gosztola struck out six Islanders in that semifinal, and he had given up no hits through five innings. But he had to leave the game after those five innings because he had reached the pitch limit of 105. Credit Mercer Island batters, who continually fouled off pitch after pitch, adding to Gosztola’s pitch count.
“That’s part of our game plan when we face a lead guy like that,” Woody said. “We think it’s better to have a six-pitch strikeout instead of a three-pitch strikeout.”
The Islanders got to the top-seeded Wildcats’ bullpen, scoring two runs in the sixth and one in the seventh to advance to Saturday night’s final.
And Mercer Island junior Austin Cupic got the Islanders to the finals by tossing a complete game.
Cupic gave up the lone run in the first inning, but shut down West Seattle the rest of the way, stranding seven runners and striking out seven batters.
It was the same formula on Saturday, as Islanders batters made Kennewick’s Lind go deep into the count.
By the third inning, Kennewick coach Lenny Ayres decided to go to his bullpen, and the Lions could never recover.
Woody loves this team.
“They are just a unique group of guys, maybe more unique than any of the teams I’ve had at Mercer Island in my 10 years,” Woody said.
He sees a lot of similarities between this year’s team and his 2015 state championship squad.
“They’re extremely talented,” Woody said of this group. “They’re jovial. They get along. It’s just a different club.”
And beating a No. 1 seed, or a No. 3 seed like Kennewick, didn’t surprise Woody at all.
“Baseball is a funny game,” he said. “This is not like facing two 7-footers in basketball, or facing three 300-pound linemen in a football. Those sports you might get crushed. In baseball, that doesn’t happen that much.”
Wu, Max Clark, Henderson and Werdel all had two hits each in Saturday’s game.
Bellevue Christian stays unbeaten
Second-seeded Bellevue Christian (25-0) wrapped up an unbeaten season by beating Cedar Park Christian 7-1 in the title game of the Class 1A state tournament in Yakima.
The Vikings won their four state-tournament games 32-8.