They kept calling it a gem: Chase Kairis's pitching last Thursday night, in the playoff run-up to the Kingco Championship Friday, halted the opposing Mercer Island Islanders, 5-0, with help from the Mount Si defense's fast hands.
Running off the physical effects of firing 93 pitches, 63 of them strikes, after the game, the humble Kairis stops to explain how he focused on getting the job done, and trying to stay cool in an exciting place: Bannerwood Park in the postseason.
It felt great to be at Bannerwood, in Bellevue, one again, with the top calibre, the senior said.
"You just get a great feeling and start going."
Kairis eliminating three batters himself and walked just one. Consistency is his thing. He did what he does every game, firing at catcher Zach Usselmen and mixing up his speeds.
"Just go out, do my best, play the game like it's your last game, and enjoy it," he explains his approach.
Another Wildcat who had a big night was Evan Johnson, who whacked a homer at the bottom of the fifth, then took a stroll around the bases.
Bannerwood's left field fence is 15 feet farther than home.
With two strikes, all Johnson wanted to hit was something productive.
"I knew it was hit hard, but I didn't think it was going out at first. I was thinking three… just put the ball in play, try to square something out."
First baseman Brian Woolley also had a good night, going three for three with an RBI.
The former catcher is now a natural first, who's been steady at the position all season, teammates say.
"This is what we've been doing all year and what we worked on all week at practice," said coach Zach Habben.
The team put on the pressure, played hard, and Kairis had good approaches at the plate.
Here we go
Prior to Friday, with a shot at the league title, Habben expected this team to come ready to play hard and put seven innings together.
Mount Si faced the Bellevue Wolverines last Friday in the Kingco Championship match. Bellevue and Mount Si had a mixed history, with the Wildcats splitting games, beating them 18-0 before falling 5-3 at home.
On Friday, however, with Connor Swift and Nick Adams taking the mound, Mount Si held them off. Carson Breshears was the big hitter, with three, while Brian Wooley added one. Breshears, Wyatt Baker-Jagla and Joey Cotto came home to score.
Mount Si moves up to regionals this coming Saturday, May 18, at Bannerwood in Bellevue.
Meet the catcher
Zach Usselmen has no favorite pitcher.
Mount Si's starting catcher likes them all.
A junior, he's in his second varsity season as the man at the plate.
last year, veteran players helped and mentored him. Today, Usselmen's hot on his goal of snagging every ball that comes his way.
"You've just got to be ready at all times," he said.
Usselmen's catching career began at eighth grade.
"I wanted to do it," he said. "I like being in the play, every time."
Pitchers have to rely on him, and he has to earn their trust, and that of the entire team.