Big league plays at Safeco Field

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Huge week for baseball program culminates at major league stadium

Last week might have held the best three-day stretch in the past decade for the Mercer Island High School baseball team. The Islanders defeated Interlake, beat Bellevue for the first time in over six years and lost to Lakeside. How can a loss be included in that three-day stretch? It was played at Safeco Field and was a non-league game.

“Those two wins in the final innings felt really good,” said Islander Joey Scalzo, who returned to the lineup from injury at the beginning of the week. “Playing at Safeco was, like, WOW.”

The biggest WOW came in the standings as the Islanders now sit just one game out of first place.

“I have been on varsity all four years, and the difference between this team and the rest is like night and day,” said Islander Andrew Higgins. “We are playing together and really unselfish baseball.”

The 5-2 victory over rival Bellevue came in the form of a comeback as the two teams were tied 2-2 heading into the top of the seventh at Bellevue High School. The victory would not have been possible without the pitching of senior Cullen Russell, who threw a complete game four-hitter with nine strikeouts.

“I thought that [Chris] Black was going to have to shoulder a bigger load this year,” said Higgins, who is the team’s catcher. “But all of the guys have been pitching well. Russell was great against Bellevue.”

A sense of urgency hit the Islander bats during the top of the seventh inning as Lubo Dimitrov connected for his second double of the contest just prior to a game breaking two-RBI single to the right side of the diamond by Scalzo.

“I hit the ball well in that last inning and really the entire game,” said Scalzo, who finished 3-for-4. “Hitting those two guys home felt really good.”

The momentum from the Bellevue win carried over into the next day, when Mercer Island again mounted a comeback to defeat Interlake at Bannerwood, 7-3.

Mercer Island fell behind 3-0 due to fielding mistakes but never gave up. Islander starter Chris Black pitched five strong innings, giving up just one earned run. Mercer Island entered the final frame of play down 3-1 as their first two at bats resulted in outs. But Scalzo would start the rally with a line drive to center for his third hit of the game. Islander shortstop Willy Reel reached base on an error. Next, Dimitrov crushed the ball into the gap for the game-tying two-run double. Islander David Courtney followed with an RBI single. The Islanders scored six runs all together during their final at-bats.

“I feel really good about our pitching staff. We just need to continue to hit,” said Higgins.

The varsity team hit against Lakeside at Safeco Field. The grandeur of the ballpark did not affect the Islander bats, as they jumped out to a 5-0 lead through five innings. Following walks by Ben Shoemaker and David Courtney, Higgins doubled into the left center-field gap and scored the first run of the game during the second inning. Russell followed with a single that scored two more runs. Russell scored on a double steal later in the inning. Islander Josh Radman’s single during the fourth scored Alex Faith as the Islanders built a big lead.

Mercer Island coach Brian Potoshnik attempted to get every one of his 28 players into the game. Islander Andy Thompson, who allowed just one hit and started the game, went just two innings. The wheels fell off for the Islanders during the sixth inning when the Lions scored 12 runs, mostly due to walks. Mercer Island scored three times during their final at-bats but lost the game 12-8.

The Islanders traveled to Issaquah on Monday, hosted Skyline on Tuesday (after Reporter deadline) and will play against Newport today at 6:30 p.m. and No. 2-ranked Liberty tomorrow at 4 p.m. The Islanders lost their first game with Liberty, 6-1, on March 18.

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