EVERETT — There was one lingering feeling when they glanced at preseason polls that again was reinforced when they looked at postseason forecasts.
Multiple South Kitsap players said that helped fuel a desire to prove critics wrong as they became of the state’s final four Class 4A baseball teams remaining after defeating Skyview 10-6 and then Skyline 7-3 during the May 22 regional tournament at Everett Memorial.
This marks the first time in program history that the Wolves (18-7) have advanced to the state semifinals three consecutive seasons. South will play Decatur (15-14) at 4 p.m. May 29 at Joe Martin Stadium in Bellingham. A win would place the Wolves in the state championship game against either Gig Harbor or Newport the following day at the same time and location.
“It’s different because nobody expected us to be here,” said senior Mac McCarty, adding that he saw a preseason poll that projected the Wolves would finish second or third in 4A Narrows and another that did not list them among the favorites to capture the district tournament championship. “It’s a little different because we don’t have the big names that we did a little bit last year. Everybody is kind of doubting us a little bit.”
Senior shortstop/pitcher Cooper Canton shared similar sentiments.
“Everyone’s just doubting us all year and we just prove everyone wrong every single day we go out there,” he said. “That’s what we gotta keep doing. We just gotta act like everyone is doubting us and perform like we can.”
The Wolves left little room for doubt in either game.
South chased the starting pitcher in both of its games during the first inning. The Wolves produced five runs in the second game against Skyline right-hander Jackson Bandow, who lasted just two-thirds of an inning. Bandow surrendered singles to the first three hitters before Drew Worden coaxed a bases-loaded walk.
South then extended its lead to 3-0 when freshman Alex Garcia reached second base on a pair of errors that scored two runs. Junior Hunter Riley followed with a two-RBI double to left-center field to end Bandow’s outing. He was replaced by senior left-hander Sam Lawrence, who surrendered a single to senior Nathan Archuleta before he induced freshman Dusty Garcia into a groundout to end the inning.
The Spartans (13-10) reduced their deficit to 5-2 during the second inning when senior Johnathan Chriest hit a one-out single and junior Tommy Swinscoe followed with a walk. With two outs, senior Nathan Ishii singled to score Chriest. Swinscoe followed home when the first baseman overthrew a pickoff attempt at third base.
But South regained those runs in the fourth inning. Dusty Garcia hit a one-out triple and scored during the ensuing at-bat on a single by junior Austin Hackman past the shortstop. Hackman later scored on a two-out single by Canton.
Skyline brought home its final run off McCarty in the seventh inning on a two-out double to center field by senior Ryan Cornwall to score junior Danny Sinatro, whose father, Matt, was a catcher for the Mariners from 1990-92. Sinatro led off the inning with a walk. But McCarty ended the game when he induced Chriest into a groundout to shortstop.
The Wolves also appeared poised for a blowout win in their opener when they scored nine runs on seven hits during the first inning. South sent 14 batters to the plate and two players, Mac McCarty and Cooper Canton, produced two hits during the inning. McCarty had four RBI during the first inning.
Skyview starter Kordell Vasbinder did not record an out and allowed eight runs. He was replaced by Ben Tycksen, who allowed one run on McCarty’s second hit of the inning.
McCarty, who went 3 for 4 with a pair of runs, doubled in the third inning and scored on a sacrifice fly by Canton during the ensuing at-bat.
“I’m a little more focused,” McCarty said. “I’m seeing the ball really well.”
That was more than enough for junior left-hander Lucas Knowles, who only allowed one hit in four innings.
“He’s matured a lot,” said Logue, who confirmed that Washington State University’s coaching staff is interested in Knowles. “He’s going to get bigger. You look at the body and framework of what he’s going to be — it’s pretty special.”
Logue, who noted that Knowles threw both against Kentwood and Puyallup during the May 16 4A West Central District Tournament, said he pulled his starter after just 71 pitches to keep him fresh. Knowles had nine strikeouts in just four innings.
Skyview, which took advantage of nine Wolves’ errors to earn an 8-5 win in the 4A state championship game two years ago, threatened to disappoint South in the postseason again during the fifth inning. South needed four relief pitchers, including McCarty, to escape the inning. But not before the Storm (10-11) scored six runs.
Five of those runs were charged to Canton, who was the first reliever, followed by junior Tanner Seaton, sophomore Nathaniel Rowan and McCarty.
“We could’ve 10-runned them, but I wanted to play more baseball,” said Canton, laughing.
Logue said the bullpen issues were his responsibility.
“I told the guys, ‘Those six runs are on me. We should’ve had you throw more early in the season,’ ” he said.
It did not matter as McCarty struck out five batters in 2 1/3 innings. He said his biggest issues were staying prepared between the games and the later innings of the second contest. For the latter issue, he said he relied on catcher Alex Garcia to call his pitches.
“Anybody who has doubted those guys — the freshmen — they’ve got to be eating their words,” he said.
But it goes beyond that. The Wolves also were forced to replace the three hitters in the middle of their lineup — Tyler Ludlow, Tyler Pinkerton and Logan Paulson — along with starting pitcher and infielder Logan Knowles after last season.
“Everybody talks about this team exceeding what was expected of them,” Logue said. “I knew what they’re capable of.”
He said talent never was an issue and the team’s 2-5 record to start the season was a byproduct of playing a difficult nonleague schedule.
“That’s why I set it up that way,” Logue said. “I had great mentors and they told me exactly how you want to prepare your team. That’s an attribute to all of the people that have come before me.”
And players who learned from those early lessons.
“This is the biggest buy-in we’ve ever had,” Logue said. “I’ve never seen a group of 27 guys that love working together more.”
4A Regional Tournament
South Kitsap 10, Skyview 6
Skyview 000 060 0 – 6 6 1
South Kitsap 901 000 x – 10 11 1
Kordell Vasbinder, Ben Tycksen (1), Mitchell Smith (2) and Carson Huseby. Lucas Knowles, Cooper Canton (5), Tanner Seaton (5), Nathaniel Rowan (5), Mac McCarty (5) and Alex Garcia.
Leading hitters-Leonard Barry (S) 3-3 2B run 2 RBI, Mac McCarty (SK) 3-4 2B 3B 2 runs 4 RBI, Cooper Canton (SK) 2-3 run 2 RBI, Drew Worden (SK) 1-2 run RBI, Dusty Garcia (SK) 1-2 BB run RBI.
South Kitsap 7, Skyline 3
Skyline 020 000 0 – 3 8 3
South Kitsap 500 200 x – 7 10 2
Jackson Bandow, Sam Lawrence (1) and Jon Chriest. Mac McCarty and Alex Garcia.
Leading hitters-Ryan Cornwall (S) 1-3 2B RBI, Riley Gill (S) 2-3, Nathan Archuleta (SK) 2-3 RBI, Drew Dickey (SK) 1-3 run RBI, Cooper Canton (SK) 2-3 run RBI.