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Wolves earn trip to state playoffs | Baseball
At the beginning of the season, the seniors on the Coupeville High School baseball team said, without hesitation, they would win the state 1A championship this spring. That prediction appeared shaky when the Wolves struggled through the regular season. The pledge, however, earned more merit when the Wolves won twice in the tri-district playoffs Saturday, May 17, to qualify for the state tournament.
The Wolves won a 1-0 heart-pounder over Overlake/Beak Creak in eight innings at Bellingham's Sehome High School, then claimed third place by stopping Life Christian Academy 6-3 at Meridian High School later that afternoon.
Third was the best Coupeville could accomplish at tri-district after finishing second in the district tournament last week. Two district champions, South Whidbey and Bothell's Cedar Park Christian, were automatically placed in the tri-district title game. Cedar Park won 5-2 Saturday.
By placing third, Coupeville earned its first state trip since 2008 and a short ride to Anacortes, along with Cedar Park. The second and fourth seeds from tri-district (South Whidbey and LCA) travel to Castle Rock, and the fifth seed, Overlake, journeys to Moses Lake.
The Wolves (14-10) will play eighth-ranked Evergreen Conference champion Rochester (16-6) at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 24, in a loser-out game. If they win, they will play the winner of Cedar Park (18-2) and Hoquiam (15-8) at about 4 p.m. for the regional title. The regional champ qualifies for the final four in Yakima and will play May 30 and 31.
In the bottom of the eighth inning in the thrilling win over Overlake, Kurtis Smith looped a two-out single in front of the Growler right fielder and that enabled speedster Jake Tumblin to race home from second base to secure Coupeville a spot in the state tournament.
Smith's heroics were set up by a gutsy pitching effort by Ben Etzell.
Etzell threw a complete-game four hitter, striking out 12 and walking five. Nine of the strikeouts came with runners in scoring position as he pitched out of trouble in each of the final four innings.
Overlake's biggest threat came in the seventh. Three walks, the last intentional, loaded the bases with one out, bring up the top of the Growler order. Etzell then fanned the next two batters, the last on a nail-biting 3-2 pitch.
Overlake pitcher Matt Kaiser matched Etzell zero-for-zero until the eighth. He pitched a four-hitter, struck out seven and walked four.
Etzell, who had a double, and Smith accounted for Coupeville's four hits, getting two each.
Until the eighth, the Wolves never had a base runner with less than two outs. At one stretch, from the fourth through the seventh, only one Coupeville hitter reached base (Wade Schaef walked in the fifth).
With one out in the eighth, Schaef walked again. Tumblin hit a grounder to shortstop, which forced Schaef at second. The late throw to first to try to double-up Tumblin skipped by the first baseman and allowed Tumblin to advance to second, setting up Smith's game-winning hit.
Coupeville's best chance to score earlier in the game came in the third with Smith and Etzell hit back-to-back two-out singles. Smith, however, slipped rounding third on Etzell's hit and was nailed trying to scramble back to the base.
Overlake put runners on the corners with two outs in the third, but Etzell stopped the threat with a strike out.
In the fifth, the Growlers received a lead-off walk and a one-out single, then a “K” and ground out to shortstop Josh Bayne ended the inning.
An error and stolen base put an Overlake runner at second with one out in the sixth, then Etzell fanned the No. 4 and 5 hitters.
In the top of the eighth, a lead-off single and error put a runner at second with no outs. Etzell, who threw well over 100 pitches, then finished his day with three straight strikeouts. The last two with a runner on third after a passed ball.
Had the game gone to the ninth inning, Coupeville coach Willie Smith said he would have turned to Aaron Trumbull to finish the game.
Etzell admitted after the game he was spent. He also said he wasn't concerned when he faced the bases-loaded, one-out situation in the seventh even though he put two of the runners on with walks.
“I have the mind set, that whenever runners get on second or third, I am not going to let them score.”
Another correct prediction by a senior.
(Details of the Life Christian Academy game were not available when this was written.)