EVERETT — A year ago, the Cascade baseball team pulled off a surprising and very thrilling march into the Class 4A state playoffs. It was a tasty bit of postseason success, and one that made the Bruins hungry for even more this season.
“In high school, I’d say that’s definitely my top sports experience,” said Bruins senior pitcher and outfielder K.J. Brady. “It was really fun and obviously pretty special, and it makes us want to do it again.”
“It was just amazing,” agreed senior second baseman Patrick Chung. “And even though we lost some key guys (to graduation), knowing we have a lot of guys back makes us want to get back to where we were, if not more.”
What happened for the Bruins last year was a remarkable stretch of backs-to-the-wall games. After finishing second to Edmonds-Woodway in the Wesco 4A South, Cascade lost its district tournament opener to Monroe. But in a series of loser-out games, the Bruins knocked off Snohomish, Edmonds-Woodway and Kamiak, followed by a state tournament play-in victory over Issaquah.
Cascade then beat Wenatchee in its state opener before losing in the quarterfinals to Kentridge.
Despite coming up short of a state championship in 2013, “we know what it takes to get there and now we want to have that again,” said Brady, who will play next season at the University of Washington.
This season, “the goal of course is to win a state championship,” said Chung, whose college plans are undecided. “Every other team has those thoughts, but I think this is definitely a good team to do it. With all the seniors and all the leadership we have, and with our juniors stepping up, we just have a really great squad. So this definitely could be the team to do it.”
So far Cascade is right on track. With 11 returning varsity players from a year ago, the Bruins sit atop the Wesco South standings with a 9-1 league record (13-2 overall), followed by Edmonds-Woodway at 7-3 (9-6), Jackson at 7-3 (9-5) and Lynnwood at 6-4 (10-4).
Cascade and Jackson face off in an important three-game series this week, beginning with today’s 4 p.m. opener at Jackson.
The Bruins are led this season by a Brady, who is 6-0 on the mound with a 1.17 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 30 innings pitched, and at the plate where he has a .449 batting average with two home runs, three triples and 20 runs scored. Fellow senior Ky Dye, who will play next season at Seattle University, is 3-1 with a 1.91 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 22 innings pitched, and has a .500 batting average.
Chung is hitting .463 with two home runs, six doubles, 16 runs scored and 18 RBI, while senior third baseman Taylor Marquardt has a .378 average with 13 runs scored and 14 RBI. The Bruins have a .350 team batting average.
Cascade coach Scott Stencil calls his team “a special group,” not only as players, but also as top students and young men. The seniors have also been part of a notable turnabout for Bruins baseball, starting out with a 3-17 record as freshmen, improving to 13-9 as sophomores, then to last year’s 19-8 mark, and finally to a 2014 squad that might be even better yet.
“They’ve really changed the face of the program since I’ve been here,” said Stencil, who is in his eighth season as the team’s head coach. “We struggled when I first started, and this is the first group that we’ve put together that’s been competitive and kind of turned the corner for us.
“Regardless of the outcome for us this season, I’ll be happy with all the contributions they’ve made to the program. This is a group I’ll remember for a long time.”
The Bruins have already locked up a district playoff berth, but after that the picture is unclear. Eight Wesco teams advance to district, “and any of those eight teams could legitimately win two games and move on (to state),” Stencil pointed out.
“Obviously our expectations are that we put ourselves in a position to be in a winner-to-state game, and hopefully to win that game,” he said. “But there’s still a lot of baseball (to come) and you never really know. You have to play your best games at the right time because that’s what it takes. Nothing’s given to anyone. And as far as we made it last year, it doesn’t have any bearing on this year.”
Very true, but the Bruins still remain a confident bunch. They have, Stencil said, “a calm demeanor about them. They just kind of know what they need to do to get the job done.”
Or as Brady puts it, “We don’t see losing as a choice. We just have to do whatever we can to win.”