Krulish: 2021 sports season one we’ll never forget

It was likely the shortest high school sports season in state history, cramming three seasons into four months, but even putting aside the external circumstances that led to its brevity, 2021 will go down as one of the most memorable in recent times.

It’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in that time; there were few precious moments to stop, take a breath and assess the sports world before it was time to move on to the next season.

Before the first high school event of the year in February — a cross country race at North Mason High School — most of the discussion centered around how runners were going to be able to keep their masks on while running rather than who the leading contenders were for each race. By the end of June, Washington had reopened, and most restrictions lifted.

It was quite a spectacle to see the runners come across the finish line with masks either around their necks or completely missing, having snapped or fallen off somewhere on the course. Thankfully, common sense prevailed, and pretty quickly that rule was discarded.

Soon after, the stories were once again about the athletes, and what amazing stories they were.

We saw it all — late fourth-quarter touchdowns, buzzer-beating baskets, tragedy and triumph in the face of adversity; we saw games scheduled and rescheduled, indoor sports moved to the outdoors, and we even saw spring sports come before winter ones.

The high school gridiron season started with a bang as the area’s two best teams, North and Central Kitsap, met for the first time since 2017, and the game lived up to the hype. Central Kitsap had a 26-13 lead in the fourth quarter, but the Vikings completed the comeback thanks to Zeke Harris’s two-yard TD run with 1:36 remaining. In a manner befitting the league’s Most Valuable Player, NK quarterback Colton Bower threw two touchdown passes in the second half and made an interception to set up the last scoring drive.

Few other football games lived up to that one, though Bainbridge had an exciting 34-28 win over Olympic in their third game of the season. Just before a lightning storm arrived on the island, senior Cal Breen took a short pass and turned it into an 80-yard touchdown. That was the capper on another great second-half comeback.

Once the players ceded the gridiron, the pitch and the rugged terrain of cross country, we traditionally would have headed inside for winter sports. But because the state had greater restrictions on winter sports, we time-warped forward to spring.

As we were making the transition, tragedy struck. Three Bainbridge volleyball players died in a single-vehicle accident following their last high school game of the season. It left an indelible mark on the Bainbridge community, but the response was extraordinary. A fundraiser for the Hannah Wachsman Memorial Foundation raised $63,255. The Bainbridge Community Fund is now managing memorial funds for Marina Miller and Hazel Kleiner as well.

On the field, dealing with the loss of their friends and members of their small athletic community, Bainbridge teams delivered a season to remember as the baseball, softball and boys soccer teams all won league championships.

Bainbridge’s boys soccer team were 9-0 heading into its crossover game with Sequim, and it would have been a battle of the unbeatens had the Wolves not lost for the first time the prior week to Kingston, but the match was certainly worthy of the championship label. Damoni Mckenna-Greenawalt and Ben Wilkinson scored for the Spartans as they took the match and the title, 2-1.

If you were fortunate enough to be at Central Kitsap’s athletic complex on the night of the Olympic League baseball and softball tournaments, you were witness to what could be high school career-defining games for Bainbridge pitchers JR Ritchie and Miranda Grogger.

Ritchie, staring down a tough Central Kitsap baseball team, engaged Cougars right-hander Josh Flaugher in a pitcher’s duel. When the dust settled, Ritchie set down 18 batters on strikes and tossed a no-hitter in the 2-0 victory. He got just enough offense as Jasiah George stole home as part of a double-steal, and Angel Maldonado knocked in a second run with a base hit.

BI’s girls softball team was a big underdog in its tournament as the No. 4 seed. That meant a first-round game against undefeated Port Angeles, but the Spartans scored five runs in the seventh inning to knock off the Roughriders 13-12. In the championship game, Grogger held a powerful North Kitsap lineup to one run while her offense was able to pick up four on the league’s best pitcher.

There were also plenty of top-notch performances on the track, but North Kitsap’s Alyssa Cullen’s times in the 100 and 200 stood head-and-shoulders above the rest. She broke the Olympic League meet records in both events, and they were the best and second-best times in the entire state.

Season 3 continued to amaze. We had outdoor wrestling and outdoor basketball, but then all Washington counties were moved to Phase 3 in the state’s reopening plan, putting everyone back in their home gyms.

South Kitsap dominated wrestling. After running through an undefeated South Puget Sound League slate, the Wolves won the team championship at the SPSL meet, which was held in the open-air Agriplex at the Washington State fairgrounds — some wrestlers competed near the edge of the arena, a mere 20 feet from the pouring rain, which was an unusual and interesting visual.

On the basketball court, few games could match the dramatic Olympic League semifinal game between Bainbridge and North Kitsap. As time dwindled down and the Vikings trailed by three, freshman Cade Orness hit a buzzer-beating, game-tying 3-pointer with a hand in his face. Orness later said he also thought the ball had been deflected. The overtime session was just as close, but North Kitsap prevailed 65-64 and beat Port Angeles in the title game two days later.

There wasn’t much time for the players to rest. A week later, the seniors participated in the West Sound All-Star game where Jacob Kirsch of Bainbridge and Areeza Amian of South Kitsap won their respective hot shot contests, while Kylee Walker of Kingston and Caleb Washington of Bremerton won the 3-point shooting contests. The week after that, it was already time for the summer hoops season.

While August might give us a short respite from an action-packed four months, it won’t be a long one. September, and, hopefully, three full season of high school sports, are right around the corner.