MI balks at victories - Errors, mental mistakes cost Islanders two games

By Matt Phelps

With the bases full of Bellevue players and just one out, Mercer Island pitcher Spencer Slaven-Lazzar was looking to get out of a big jam. With a one-ball, two-strike count on the hitter, Slaven-Lazzar made the smallest of movements but the biggest of mistakes -- a balk. The slight move of his shoulder caused a big stir as the runner from third walked home for what would eventually be the winning run, 6-5.

The play was a perfect example of the Islanders' season: small mistakes at the wrong time.

Ironically, Slaven-Lazzar was the Islanders' pitching savior during the game.

Mercer Island began the contest ready to hit. An error, a base hit and a passed ball gave the Islanders two runners in scoring position with two outs during the first inning. Islander Brian Kitamura stepped to the plate and lined an RBI base hit to right-center field.

``I was just looking for a fast ball,'' said Kitamura, who was 4-for-4 during the game. ``We battled today and I think we have the right mind set.''

Islander Derek Baer then drew a walk. David Graham hit the third pitch he saw just inside the first base line for a two RBI double as the Islanders pounded away at the two-out rally. Freshman Chris Black dropped in a bloop hit to center field as the Islanders built an early 4-0 lead.

But starting pitcher Sam Selby did not have his best stuff. After cruising through the first inning, Selby fell apart. He gave up just one unearned run during the second inning but was erratic with his accuracy.

``You can tell when it is just not going to be the day,'' said Mercer Island baseball head coach Doug Williams.

Mental mistakes in the field hurt the Mercer Island cause as well. Despite committing just two errors, small mistakes loomed large in the bigger picture of the game, such as base-running mistakes, losing pop-ups in the sky, dropped pop-ups and the lack of a lead-off man on base for three of the final four innings.

Back-to-back doubles during the third inning and an RBI base hit, all coming on three-ball counts, chased Selby to the dugout. Slaven-Lazzar came out of the bullpen to try and salvage what was left of the Islanders lead. A two RBI double and an RBI single gave Bellevue the 5-4 advantage on the scoreboard, but Slaven-Lazzar would settle down to strikeout the final two hitters of the inning.

Islander Mike Keller got his team even again at 5-5 with an RBI single during the bottom of the third.

``We knew that it was tied but shouldn't have been tied,'' said Kitamura. ``We just have to put it all together and we haven't done that yet.''

Slaven-Lazzar cruised through the fourth inning, made one costly mistake during the fifth, and recovered to shut down Bellevue for the sixth and seventh innings.

``It seems like whenever you get a balk, it happens at the wrong time,'' said Williams. ``We had a horrible effort on defense. It is still early, but we have to figure out how much effort it takes to win.''

In all, Slaven-Lazzar had his longest outing of the year, going five innings, allowing two runs on four hits and striking out seven hitters.

But the Islanders had chances to tie or take the lead. Twice during the final four innings Mercer Island had a runner in scoring position and collected 12 hits during the game as a team.

The growing pains of the young Mercer Island squad are shared with Bellevue as they had just one senior on the field and four sophomores.

``We are young, but we can still look towards the playoffs this year,'' said Williams. ``But we have to play clean ball games.''

Mercer Island is now 0-4 in KingCo but have played three of the top teams in the league to start the season.

On April 13 the Islanders lost to Issaquah 6-4, also after holding a 4-1 lead.

Mercer Island played at Sammamish Tuesday (after Reporter deadline) and will host Interlake Thursday. The Saints were defeated by Bellevue 15-0 on April 12.

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