By David Krueger Herald Writer
KJ Brady’s first season for Cascade High School’s baseball team didn’t go exactly how he — or the rest of the Bruins — hoped.
The pitcher and outfielder started every game in a strong freshman campaign, but the Bruins won just three games.
Three years later, after starting every baseball game in his four-year varsity career, Brady had played a key role in Cascade’s turnaround from a struggling 3-17 team in 2010 to a dominant squad that finished 20-5 this season and made its second-consecutive trip to the 4A state semifinals.
As a pitcher, Brady finished his senior year with an 8-1 record and a 1.54 earned-run average. As an outfielder, he batted .418 with a .500 on base percentage, 30 runs scored, 19 RBI, three home runs, three triples and seven doubles.
Brady’s individual stats and determination, as well as his leadership for the Bruins, have made him The Herald’s Baseball Player of the Year.
“It’s tremendously important to have your most talented players be good teammates and good students. He’s just a good kid,” said Cascade head coach Scott Stencil. “He does everything the right way. At school. On the (baseball) field. On the football field. He’s exactly what you want as a student-athlete.
“He led by example. Watching him play you really knew that he was going to hold himself accountable and his teammates to a high standard.”
Stencil credits Brady and the other Bruins’ seniors as being catalysts that turned around Cascade’s baseball team.
“KJ — and this group of seniors — just came in with this will to win,” Stencil said. “Sometimes that determination can go a long way. Obviously, they’re a talented group and when you put talent with effort and with all that determination you just end up with a nice product.”
Brady, who committed to the University of Washington, said his biggest accomplishment is the rejuvenation of Cascade’s baseball team. He really enjoyed the transformation of a Bruins squad he said is the closest team he’s ever been a part of.
“It took more than just talent. It took a lot of hard work,” Brady said. “We were in the weight room after football season right up until baseball, three to four days a week. That was on us. We had to show up. There was always about 10 or 12 of us in there getting after it. Talent obviously helps, but I think the dedication we put in shows that hard work pays off.”
Brady said that staying positive was key for him, Patrick Chung, Taylor Marquardt and Ky Dye — the other Bruin seniors who started all four years.
“Players (like Brady) with that kind of talent that demands so much out of himself, it rubs off on teammates,” Stencil said. “It’s fun to coach them.”
His determination helped make Brady a key member of Cascade’s pitching rotation. Brady pitched a bit in his freshman and sophomore seasons, and then really gained some velocity going into his junior year. He threw complete game shutouts against Marysville Pilchuck and Jackson in his first two games, which was all Stencil needed to see.
“He’s an outfielder that pitches. He’s such a great athlete to have,” Stencil said. “Whether (the score is) 1-0, 4-2 or 6-3, he’s going to keep you in games and give you a chance to win.”
Said Brady: “I was just one of the three starters from then on.”
Brady earned first-team all-Wesco 4A South honors as an outfielder the past three seasons. He was also named a first-team pitcher in his sophomore and senior years.
The senior’s competitive nature will be missed not just by Stencil, but by other coaches in the area including Kirk Nicholson, the coach of Jackson, Cascade’s Wesco 4A South rival.
“He’s a great kid. He’s one of those guys that he’s going to compete really hard during the game but have a smile and laugh on the way out, win, lose or draw,” Nicholson said. “He’s just a great kid. You always miss guys like that.
“I won’t miss having to go against him, though.”
Nicholson said an underrated aspect of Brady’s game is his athleticism on the mound. The senior is so quick, he can play defense on a bunt almost by himself, sparing the Bruins’ infielders from having to charge the ball.
When Brady was at the plate, Nicholson and the Timberwolves tried to prepare for him but found it hard to find a defensive shift that would work on Brady.
“When he’s leading off, you’ve got to pitch to him,” Nicholson said. “We talk about possible (defensive) shifts but he’ll spray it around the field. It’s tough to gameplan against a guy that uses the whole field when he hits.”
Brady’s next challenge will come at UW, where he will play outfield for the Huskies. The senior says he’ll miss pitching because he likes “having the ball in your hand and having it be on you.” But outfield is his first love and he’s going to play that position for the school he’s always loved.
“It’s been my dream school since I was little,” Brady said. “Growing up being a Husky, going to football, baseball and basketball games. I didn’t think there was another school I had that connection with. It was honestly a dream come true.”
The Huskies approached Brady the summer after his sophomore year at Cascade. They invited him to a visit and within a week he knew he was ready to commit to Washington, where he’s thinking about studying communications to be a sports broadcaster. He’s also considering business or education.
“I could definitely see myself being a high school coach one day, too,” Brady said.
Stencil thinks Brady will have a strong career as a Husky, and hopes he gets a chance to continue his baseball career after that.
“I guarantee, 100 percent, he wants to play pro. No doubt,” Stencil said. “He’s a great student, so I know school comes first, but he’s definitely going to be looking to play at the next level.”