EVERETT — It’s a sunny and pleasant Friday afternoon at Everett Memorial Stadium, meaning it’s the rare day this spring when the Everett Community College baseball team actually has been able to use its home field.
Yet, despite the ideal baseball conditions, the Trojans are still throwing around their adopted phrase for the season: grit. The players chatter about handing out grit coins when a teammate puts in that little added bit of effort.
Indeed, 2017 has been all about gritting it out for the Trojans, who became baseball vagabonds because of the inordinate amount of rain in the Pacific Northwest this spring. But dealing with adversity has given the team grit, and that quality has Everett in contention for a Northwest Athletic Conference championship.
“Grit is a product of your character, and it’s something we’ve developed through the adversity we’ve faced,” sophomore second baseman and team captain Jacob Prater said. “Grit is a perfect word to describe this team as a whole.”
Everett is one of eight teams that will slug it out at the NWAC Baseball Championships, which run Thursday through Monday in Longview. The Trojans (33-11) qualified as the champions of the North Region. They face South Region No. 2 Lane (26-19) in the opening round of the double-elimination tournament at 4:35 p.m. Thursday.
Everett is considered one of the top contenders to claim the title. The Trojans were runners-up last year, and they’re second in the NWAC’s RPI rankings, behind only Linn-Benton.
Yet the Trojans had to overcome Mother Nature to reach this point.
The unusually rainy spring turned Everett into a team without a home. The Trojans’ home field at Everett Memorial Stadium was unplayable until the final weekend of the regular season. When Everett practiced, it did so on the turf football field at Everett Memorial. When it had home games scheduled, Everett was forced to travel as far as Bellingham and Olympia to host games. Of the Trojans’ 22 scheduled home games, 20 were played away from home.
How did Everett do in those “home” games? In the 20 games the Trojans hosted away from Everett Memorial, they went 18-2.
”It’s been challenging, but they just don’t let that stop them from working hard,” Everett coach Levi Lacey said. “Every day we get here (to Everett Memorial), the field’s gone so we have to go over to the turf. We get in about 1 o’clock after ultimate Frisbee and we have to be out by 3 o’clock by the time high school track starts. So it’s been pretty impressive what they’ve been able to do on the field with the minimal amount of on-field hours that we’ve had.
“We’ve had some tough teams, but honestly this team to me has really shown that they’re probably the toughest team we’ve had in my 16 years being here.”
It helps that Everett has perhaps the best pitching staff in the league. The Trojans led the league in ERA during conference play at 2.21, well ahead of second-place Lane (2.56). And Everett has the unusual luxury of having four starting pitchers it can depend on: sophomores Curtis Bafus, Dalton Chapman and Ryan Sandifer, and freshman Alex Spahman. Bafus (6-1, 1.98 ERA), Chapman (6-2, 1.71) and Sandifer (7-1, 2.35) have been particularly strong, with all three being named to the All-North Region team.
“Last year we had one ace, maybe two,” said Chapman, an Alaska native who is back after redshirting last year to get his school credits in line. “But I think this year we have four complete stud aces on the mound who we can rely on in any situation, whether it’s a start or they need to come out of the pen or have to go a complete game, whatever the situation is. I think that’s a huge component and a huge advantage, having four starters just being dudes on the mound.”
But the Trojans aren’t just about pitching, they also can hit. Everett led the league in batting average during conference play at .324. Freshman outfielder Trent Tinglestad (.381), and sophomore first baseman Peyton Cordova-Smith (.376) have led the way for a Trojans lineup that may not possess the most power in the league, but is dangerous from one through nine.
“We’ve hit very well,” said Tinglestad, a graduate of Marysville-Pilchuck High School. “Even when some guys are off, the other guys are on. We’re never off at the same time. Our team is never cold, we always have someone on fire or someone who’s doing well.”
Put it all together and Everett is primed to add to the title it won in 2013.
“I feel that our chances are good,” Lacey said. “I’m not going to say we have to go down and do something out of character. We just have to go and play our game, and if we do, I think we have a chance to make a run at it. We lost in the championship last year, we return a bunch of guys who were there and we brought in some freshmen who have played in good programs coming into Everett, so they’re used to some big games.
“I think we have a good shot if we play our game.”