By Oliver Lazenby
After playing nine games in 13 days, including some stressful wins and close losses, Blaine varsity baseball earned a break before playoffs by winning its final game of the season.
The 2–1 victory over Meridian on April 27 allows Blaine to skip the must-win round of the playoffs and advance directly to the district tournament, which starts on May 6.
“Clinching a bye in the first round was huge for us,” head coach Sean Linville said. “Mentally we’re just exhausted. I told them we’re taking the next three days off and I don’t want anyone to touch a baseball. They need to clear their minds.”
Blaine suffered all three of its losses this season in a stretch of nine games in the second half of April. All three games were close. Against Lynden, the only team in the conference with a better overall record than Blaine, the game ended with Blaine runners on second and third base and a 3–0 score.
Blaine’s win over Meridian capped an incredible 17–3 season, but it was no victory lap.
Blaine scored first – Anthony Ball hit an RBI double in the fourth inning after Cruz Rodriguez hit a single – but Meridian tied the game in the top of the seventh inning.
Meridian’s Simon Burkett ran home from third base on an errant pitch. Meridian’s starting pitcher, Warren Utschynski, followed him with a double, putting the winning run in scoring position with one out.
With the game on the line, Blaine pitcher Brandon Watts refocused and ended the inning with a fly out and a ground out.
“As soon as you step in between those white lines you just have to clear your mind,” Watts said. “I tried to do that to the best of my ability. Obviously I didn’t do it well enough – they got one run – but it still worked out.”
Watts watched from the dugout in the bottom of the seventh, thinking his team could handle going into extra innings, but also hoping his team would score.
It seemed possible, with the top of Blaine’s lineup due to bat by the end of the inning. Plus, if the inning went long enough, Meridian would have to bring in a new pitcher – Utschynski was nearing the 105-pitch cutoff, at which point it is mandatory for high school pitchers to stop.
But Utschynski got two quick outs, bringing Colby Knutzen to the plate with Chase Abshere on deck – a promising combo for Blaine.
“I really wanted Colby to get on,” Linville said. “I really thought if we could get Chase to the plate he might be able to find a gap and with the way Colby runs, he’d be able to score.”
Knutzen battled to a full-count and then fouled Utschynski’s 104th pitch. Knutzen walked on the next pitch.
Meridian’s relief pitcher only got to throw one pitch. Abshere’s bat connected, relieving his teammates’ tension in another stressful game – the ball bounced off the left field wall and Knutzen made it home.
“Just judging the ball and the runner, by the time Colby was around second base I could tell that was the game,” Watts said.
In its first playoff game, Blaine will play Burlington-Edison at 12 p.m. on Saturday, May 6 at Daniels Field in Anacortes.