EVERETT — If you spot a flock of bleach-blonde boys strutting around Everett High School or near Funko Field, it’s not a group of displaced surfers from California — it’s just the Seagulls baseball team.
On Monday, right behind the locker rooms at Everett Memorial Stadium, one-by-one each member of the team had his hair bleached blonde in celebration of the school’s first state-tournament berth since 1995.
But why? It stems from a declaration made during a conversation between senior left fielder Tyler Bates and sophomore shortstop Abe Affholter during the preseason: “If we make it to state, we’re going to bleach our hair.”
“When we got into the district tournament, we were like, ‘Oh crap, we really said that,’” Bates said.
But now that the Seagulls are basking in the glow of preparing for state, there was no trepidation about sporting a new look for the postseason — and for many more months to come.
“That’s the vibe of the team,” Bates said. “We all wanted to do it, because it meant more team unity and more team chemistry. We all spent three and a half hours together and it was more than just having our hair bleached, we were throwing the football around, just talking, having a good time. And that’s important time for a team to have.”
The team chemistry component is a big part of the success of Everett, which plays its first state-tournament game in 24 years Saturday in a 3A first-round matchup against Peninsula at Sherman Anderson Field in Mount Vernon. The first pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.
“They have energy and they like each other and I think that’s really put them over the top,” head coach Alex Barashkoff said. “Teams in the past, they haven’t jelled as well as this team, but I think some of them have been together for four years.”
“In the past, it’s been really selfish and just ‘I-guy’ baseball,” Bates added. “We didn’t want that (this year), so we worked through the offseason together and we really picked each other up. We don’t like getting down on each other, we support one another. It’s a different mentality.”
There was a moment this season where teams of years past would have unraveled: A three-game sweep by Arlington in March, during which the Eagles outscored the Seagulls by 31 runs.
There was no panic or finger-pointing, Bates said.
“It was a really positive energy,” he said. “We knew they were one of the best teams in the state and we didn’t want to roll over to them and we didn’t want that to ruin our season. We were just going to take this and go out and beat every other team in our league.
“That was a really good test early in the season, because it taught us to stay together. We’re a completely different team than when we played them earlier in the season. It’s like night-and-day. We go out and we expect to win; we’re ready to win.”
For the Seagulls, it didn’t take long for the team’s confidence and camaraderie to build. A season-opening 1-0 victory over crosstown-rival Cascade, the program’s first win over the Bruins since 2009, set the tone for the season.
“We’ve wanted to do that for the longest time,” Bates said. “Once we did that, we felt like we could go out and beat anybody.”
Since getting swept by Arlington, Everett has dropped just two games and posted a 3-0 record in the recent 3A district tournament to claim the school’s first district championship since 1991.
That was a feeling many of Everett’s upperclassmen felt plenty in their youth, but have hardly experienced at the high school level. North Everett Little League’s intermediate-level baseball qualified for the Western Regional in Nogales, Arizona, in 2014. The team featured Bates, Aaron Robertson, Jonathan Murphy, Caden Lockhart, Nick Mardesich and Ryan Tebatebai. Robertson and Lockhart, who are juniors, helped advance a team in 2015 to Nogales after the rest of the core moved on.
Bates and rest of Everett’s seniors vowed to reclaim that winning culture in Everett.
“When we were younger, all we did was win,” Bates said. “We didn’t lose ballgames, and that’s the mentality we want to have this year.
“I was like, ‘This wasn’t how we grew up.’ We knew that wasn’t how we played ball and how you won ballgames.”
Not only does Everett feature a more cohesive unit off the field, it’s getting more production on it.
The Seagulls’ team batting average rose from .233 last year to .296 this year. Everett’s extra-base hits have more than doubled, from 21 last season to 48 this season, and they’re scoring 7.1 runs per game in 2019 after tallying 5.0 runs per game in 2018.
Add in a one-two punch on the mound in Mardesich and Lockhart, and the Seagulls are riding a 10-game winning streak heading into the state tournament.
If Everett is able to vanquish its first-round foe, a rematch against Arlington could be waiting for them in the quarterfinals Saturday.
The Seagulls say they’re ready.
“Even if we’re not the best group of guys on the field, we’re scrappy, we’re from Everett,” Robertson said. “We’ll give you a game. We’re not going to quit. We’re going to play every game, seven innings, full outs.”
Regardless of what transpires on Saturday, Bates is aware of this group’s impact on the program.
After decades of losing seasons, Everett hopes this group has helped turn around the program for good.
“I never thought as a younger player playing in this system that we’d have a state sendoff in front of Everett High School, at least for me,” Bates said. “That’s going to be really cool. We’re representing Everett.
“Especially for us seniors, we’ve been through a lot of stuff. With not having a field to not having the right guys and the right mentality, that was a huge weight off our chest. We left our mark for Everett High School.”
Follow Josh Horton on twitter @JoshHortonEDH .