Early in his baseball career at Cascade High School, K.J. Brady was an up-and-coming star. Good enough, in fact, that he already was drawing the attention of college coaches.
Had he played out the recruiting process, Brady no doubt would have received multiple scholarship offers. But he knew at the outset that he wanted to play at the University of Washington, and when that offer came, he was ready to accept.
“I committed after my sophomore year of high school,” said Brady, a junior outfielder on this year’s UW baseball team. “What really attracted me was the facilities and the coaches. I felt really connected with them when I went on my visit.
“It was also close to home and I’d always been a Husky (at heart), so it was a pretty easy choice, honestly.”
After graduating from Cascade in the spring of 2014, Brady enrolled at Washington later that year. Since arriving on campus, he said, “I’ve learned a lot, both in baseball and in life as well, and it’s been a lot of good stuff. … It’s been a really good time in my life.”
Brady is part of a UW program that is hoping for a breakthrough season in 2017 under eighth-year head coach Lindsay Meggs. The Huskies have been to the postseason in two of the past three seasons, including 2016, but the team has yet to achieve the greater goal of reaching the College World Series, the annual eight-team tournament in Omaha, Nebraska, that is the pinnacle of college baseball.
“That’s kind of the reason you play college baseball,” Brady said. “It’s to get to Omaha. For everyone in our program, that’s the motivation every day in practice and in every game as well. Getting to Omaha is the end goal for us. We want to be one of the last eight teams standing, and I think we have the talent to do it (this season).”
Meggs agrees, and he points out that Washington already has reached the top tier of Pacific-12 Conference teams. Not only have the Huskies reached the postseason twice since 2014, they have the league’s second-best won-lost record in that stretch.
“For us, we really believe the next logical step is to get to a super regional,” said Meggs, referring to the best-of-three series between two regional winners, with the eight super regional winners advancing to Omaha.
“If you get to a super regional, you’re two wins away from the College World Series,” he went on. “There are some teams that don’t like to talk about that, but we do talk about it. And it’s why I come to work every day. … During the recruiting process, and when you talk to (recruits like) the K.J. Bradys out there, if you talk about what’s important to them, that’s what they want to talk about.”
The Huskies, who are ranked 11th in the nation, returned every starting position player but one from a year ago, along with several top members of the pitching staff. One key loss was closer Troy Rallings, a first-team All-American in 2016, so that role is “the big question for us,” Meggs said. Early this season Washington has “thrown some different young players into the fire to see how they’d handle that role, and I think we’ll have that settled by the time we get to conference play.”
Washington opened its season in late February with a nine-day trip to California. The Huskies won four of seven games there — all three losses were by one run — before returning home for a four-game weekend series with Sacramento State. The Huskies won three of four, including a 4-0 shutout on Sunday, to run their record to 7-4.
With a lineup that includes four of five regulars who batted over .300 a year ago — including senior first baseman John Naff, a 2012 graduate of Marysville Pilchuck High School who batted .301 — as well as two of the team’s regular starting pitchers, the Huskies have an abundance of veteran talent.
“I think this is our most well-balanced group and our most athletic group in terms of a great combination of right-handed and left-handed hitters, power guys, and real athletic guys,” Meggs said.
Adding to the mix is the speedy Brady, who was voted Washington’s most improved player by his teammates a year ago.
Brady is, Meggs said, “the best runner on our team. … It’s the pressure component to run the bases, the bunting game and stretching singles into doubles. That’s the kind of thing that he does best for us.”
For the Huskies, putting all the pieces together “has been really fun to see,” Brady said. “Both in practice and the few games we’ve played, you can see the potential we have. If we keep getting better, I definitely think we could do something special this year.”