By Mike Cane For The Enterprise
It was an unforgettable day for the Mountlake Terrace High School baseball team. The Hawks achieved something no squad in their program’s history had ever done.
But Mountlake Terrace didn’t have much time to savor its huge breakthrough — its first state-tournament victory, which came against Central Kitsap in its first game on May 22 — because the mighty Kentwood Conquerors bashed their way to the regional championship and ended the Hawks’ season.
Cash McGuire, Austin Voth and Avery Kain drilled home runs for heavy-hitting Kentwood, which routed Mountlake Terrace 13-2 on Saturday evening in the Class 4A Region 1 Tournament title game at Everett Memorial Stadium. Voth’s homer, a three-run shot in the sixth inning, was immediately followed by Kain’s solo home run. The blasts gave Kentwood a 12-run lead and the Conquerors closed out the win to advance to the state semifinals May 28 at Safeco Field.
Meanwhile, the season ended for Terrace (18-7), which relied on excellent pitching all spring and solid defense for most of the playoffs but struggled in those areas against Kentwood, the South Puget Sound League runnerup, which drilled Skyline 16-4 before playing Terrace.
“I think that anybody that watched that game realizes that (Kentwood is) a team that’s a true state-championship contender with the way they swing the bat,” Mountlake Terrace coach Andrew Watters said.
The Conquerors, in the state tournament for the sixth time since 2004, scored 29 runs and pounded 27 hits in two regional victories. Aided by two Terrace errors, Kentwood scored four runs and had four hits against Gonzaga University-bound pitcher Aaron Brooks in the third inning. The Hawks never recovered, finishing with just five hits and three errors.
Still, after the game ended, Watters praised his young team for achieving so much this spring. Five sophomores started for Terrace and the Hawks returned just three experienced players from their 2009 squad.
“Every step that we took here at the end of the year was a new step for these kids, and it was rewarding,” Watters said.
The biggest step in program history came earlier on Saturday, when Terrace rallied to score three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning — its final at-bat — and knocked out Central Kitsap 5-4 in a first-round regional clash. The Hawks were previously 0-5 in state games, including an 11-5 loss against Central Kitsap in 2008 at Everett Memorial.
Led by Oregon State University-bound pitcher Drew Vettleson, the Tacoma News Tribune’s player of the year, Central Kitsap built a 4-0 edge through four innings. But Terrace hung in, helped nudge Vettleson out of the game by drawing walks and prevailed. Sophomore Alex Hatch tied it at 4-4 with a long, two-run single off the right-field scoreboard. Then Terrace won when junior Keegan Volpone slid head-first across home plate on a wild pitch by Cougars reliever Nathan Reece.
“It doesn’t matter how many runs we’re down. We’re going to try to win,” said Volpone, who walked four times in the game.
Finally winning in the state tournament was an enormous relief for Watters, Terrace’s 11th-year coach.
“For me personally, it’s been a monkey on my back,” he said. “Any time you lose at state it’s a disappointment because it ends your season. So we’ve been through that three times (2001, 2006, 2008) and it feels great to finally have one time where we don’t have to feel that rejection.”
Before Watters became the Hawks’ coach, Terrace lost 3A first-round state games in 1986 and 1988.
There was a scary moment in the Terrace-Central Kitsap game. Hawks pitcher Andrew Woeck crumpled face-first onto the mound after throwing a pitch in the top of the seventh inning. With two outs and one strike against Josh Kriefels, Woeck threw a fastball and collapsed in pain.
The senior was down for several minutes and apparently tore or severely strained an abdominal muscle. He was forced to leave the game. Woeck, who plays shortstop when he’s not pitching, did not play against Kentwood but said he would have been ready for the state semifinals, in the event Terrace advanced.
“He had a lot of guts, that kid. He’s been the guts of this team all year,” Watters said.
Brooks, who started later against Kentwood, relieved Woeck and got the final out of the seventh, setting up Terrace’s thrilling final-inning rally.
Watters praised Brooks and the team’s two senior captains — Woeck and third baseman Chris Raunio — for helping lift the Hawks’ youthful group to surprising heights.
“It’s pretty amazing how much better these guys got this year, and what a special run that was,” Watters said. “That’s a feather in their cap, and hopefully for the young kids it’s going to be a big moment to build off when we move to 3A next year.”
Mike Cane writes for The Herald in Everett.