The Mountlake Terrace baseball team has already won a state championship in the classroom and made school history on the diamond.
Now these accomplished scholar-athletes are just two wins away from claiming the ultimate prize.
After battling back from the brink of elimination to win five straight postseason games, the Hawks are in the state semifinals for the first time in program history.
“It’s pretty special, because you’ve always trained for the big moments,” Mountlake Terrace senior Max Coleman said, “and this is the biggest of them all.”
The Hawks face West Valley (Spokane) in a Class 2A state semifinal Friday at Yakima County Stadium in Yakima. The winner advances to Saturday’s state title game against Ellensburg or W.F. West.
“They’ve been inspiring for the last few weeks,” said Mountlake Terrace coach Andrew Watters, whose team recently was crowned the 2A baseball academic state champions with a combined 3.61 grade-point average.
“We were facing elimination, and these guys just buckled down and got tougher and got better. I have a feeling we’re not done yet. I really feel good about going into Friday’s game and just continuing what we’ve been doing.”
After a 2-1 eight-inning walk-off loss to Lynden in the 2A Northwest District tournament quarterfinals, the Hawks (19-8) rebounded by winning back-to-back one-run elimination games to qualify for the state tournament.
Mountlake Terrace rallied for two runs in the bottom of the sixth for a 3-2 win over Sedro-Woolley, then scored the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh for a 4-3 victory over top-seeded Anacortes in a winner-to-state contest.
“These guys have really scraped and clawed and battled,” said Watters, who’s in his 19th season at the helm. “They just don’t give up. … We’ve been able to maintain our composure in tough situations.
“It’s been a beautiful thing to watch, a group of high school kids with that kind of mental approach.”
That mental toughness has been forged through numerous tight encounters. Mountlake Terrace has played in 11 one-run games this season, going 6-5 in those contests.
The Hawks have excelled in close games as of late, winning each of their last five contests by three runs or less. That includes a pair of three-run victories over Port Angeles and Highline in last Saturday’s 2A state regional to advance to the semifinals.
“We’ve lost tough ones, we’ve won tough ones and we’ve come back,” Watters said. “We’ve kind of done it all. All those experiences are there, and we take it into this final four as a really big-time, battle-tested team.”
Mountlake Terrace is led by its pitching and defense, which work in tandem to allow just 3.5 runs per game. The Hawks have been particularly difficult to score on this postseason, yielding a mere 12 runs combined in their seven playoff contests while holding all seven opponents to three runs or less.
“Our pitching has been phenomenal in the playoffs, and our defense behind it has been nothing short of the same,” Watters said. “Anytime you pitch and play defense in baseball, you’re in every game.”
Mountlake Terrace’s starting rotation is anchored by left-handed senior Tanner Boe and righty senior Kendall Yackley. Boe has a 1.95 earned-run average in 50 1/3 innings pitched. Yackley has a 2.30 ERA in 48 2/3 innings, along with 53 strikeouts and 20 walks.
Junior reliever Dillon Gordon has been lights-out for the Hawks in late-game situations, sporting a 2.14 ERA in 32 2/3 innings. The righty side-armer has allowed just two earned runs over his past 25 innings pitched.
Working behind them is a defense that commits just 1.3 errors per game.
“I think we’ve got one of the best defensive teams in all of the state,” Watters said. “The kids understand what we’re trying to do as a cohesive group in any situation.”
Mountlake Terrace’s offense is led by senior Matthew Johnson (.341 batting average), junior Jonathan Kumai (.316), Yackley (.300 with three home runs) and Coleman (.295 with one home run).
“We’ve had some clutch hitting and (have) executed when we needed to,” Watters said.
Despite graduating three All-Wesco 3A South first-team selections from last season, the Hawks have increased their win total by seven games.
“We lost a few really, really good players last year,” Watters said, “but the rest of the team is a year older, and they got that experience last year. When we went to Anacortes (for the district tournament) this year, our guys had been there before, and I think they were ready for it this time, and we’ve kept getting better. Even from the start of this year to now, we keep getting better.”
Mountlake Terrace’s historic postseason run coincided with being announced as academic state champions last week.
“Listening to us in the dugout, you wouldn’t think we’re the academic state champions,” Coleman said with a laugh. “It was kind of a surprise, because I didn’t even know that was a thing. It’s pretty cool knowing that we’re one of the smartest teams out there.”
Watters said the academic state title is further validation of his team’s character.
“I knew we had smart guys on the team that excel academically,” he said, “but when I learned of that, it was just more confirmation of the type of individuals that make up this team. … They’re hard-working kids. That’s just who they are. They do the work. They do it in school, and they do it here (on the field).
“They’re just a great group. As a coach, you don’t get a group like this maybe ever. It’s really a special thing to get to be their coach.”