By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
LYNNWOOD — Earlier this year, Edmonds Community College baseball player Ryan Budnick was interviewed by a reporter from the school paper. Among the questions, Budnick was asked what the team’s record might be.
“I said we were going to go undefeated,” Budnick said, recalling the preseason conversation. “It was semi-joking and some people laughed at that, but it was because I knew we were that good.”
It turns out Budnick was wrong, but not by a lot. The Tritons have lost seven games, but they also have 34 victories, and their record is the best by winning percentage in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges, which includes 27 schools in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia (Treasure Valley CC in Ontario, Ore., also has 34 wins, but has played three more games).
In addition, Edmonds CC won the NWAACC’s North Region regular-season championship, then won three straight games for the regional tournament title, and is a strong contender heading into the NWAACC tournament, which begins today at Lower Columbia College in Longview.
The Tritons open at 4:35 p.m. today against Lane CC of Eugene, Ore., and in the double-elimination format they need to win five games in five days for the tourney championship.
“I don’t want to sound cocky,” said Budnick, a first baseman and 2012 graduate of Edmonds-Woodway High School, “but the way we’re playing right now I’d say our chances are very high. We know not to get too big-headed, but we also know what we’re capable of. And the ultimate goal is to win (an NWAACC title).”
“Since Day 1 that’s been our goal,” said catcher Kyle Olson, a 2011 graduate of Jackson High School. “We knew we wanted to win the North and then the (regional) tournament, but (the NWAACC tournament) is obviously our main goal.”
Under second-year coach Scott Kelly, the Tritons returned several players this season from a 2013 squad that just missed reaching the NWAACC tournament (Edmonds CC lost to Bellevue College in the regional title game). With just three true freshmen on this week’s tournament roster, “we’re a veteran club,” Kelly said. “And I knew coming in (to the season) that we had a really good core of guys.”
The Tritons are potent offensively, scoring close to seven runs a game and with a .309 team batting average. Budnick, a sophomore, is batting .386 with 51 hits, 16 doubles, six home runs and 44 RBI, all team bests. Olson, also a sophomore, is hitting .365, while sophomore T.C. Florentine (Woodinville HS) is hitting .355 with a team-high 45 runs.
But if the offense is scoring runs in bunches, the pitching is equally impressive. The Tritons have a 2.34 team ERA, and the top three starters have been outstanding. Sophomore Zach Johnson (Lake Washington HS) is 8-1 with a 1.12 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 64 innings, sophomore Andrew Kemmerer (Issaquah HS) is 9-1 with a 1.24 ERA, and freshman Austin Lee (Black Hills HS) is 8-0 with a 2.12 ERA.
At this week’s NWAACC tournament, “I think we have as good a chance as anybody,” Kelly said. “This is a great group, and these guys have probably played their best baseball over the last two weeks, which is a good sign. … We feel real confident. There aren’t too many things we have to tweak.”
And if camaraderie counts for anything, the Tritons could end up breezing to a league championship.
“I’ve never played on a team that’s been this close before,” said Budnick, who plans to play next season at Santa Clara (Calif.) University. “We’re all friends and we’re all (like) family. I feel like I have a ton of brothers.”
Olson, who expects to play next season at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, is in his third year at Edmonds CC, which includes a redshirt season. “The difference between this team and the last two teams is that this team is really, really close,” he said.
“Our chemistry is unbelievable,” he said. “I knew the one thing we’d have and the one thing that every good team has, it’s that these guys like each other.
“It’s awesome to come to a practice with these guys,“ he added. “And of course winning helps everything.”