EVERETT — Just three weeks ago the Stanwood High School baseball team looked like it might be on its way to another tough season.
The Spartans, who compiled a 41-79 record in six seasons from 2015-2021, were 4-6, including a 1-3 mark in league play, and coming off a five-game losing streak after being swept by Wesco 3A/2A North foe Snohomish.
During that stretch Stanwood was held to three runs or fewer eight times.
But the bats came alive after that series with Snohomish, and the wins have been rolling in ever since for the Spartans.
Thursday’s victory over Archbishop Murphy was the sweetest of them all.
Tryston Stephenson delivered the go-ahead RBI single in the top of the sixth inning, Matthew Brennan pitched three scoreless innings of relief and Stanwood outlasted Archbishop Murphy 4-3 to clinch the Wesco 3A/2A North title.
It’s the first league championship for the Stanwood baseball program since 1998.
“It’s a sweet feeling,” said Stanwood coach Matt Brennan, who was an athletic trainer with the 1998 team and took over head coaching duties in 2019. “… We’re so proud of the seniors and happy for them because they started four years ago when I came in and we went through it together. We went through a lot of growth and culture changes and shifts with our program. We’ve worked so hard to get to this point and be this kind of a team. We’re just so happy that it came together.”
Stanwood won nine of its last 10 regular-season games after being swept by Snohomish, including all of the final six, to make its surprising title run.
The difference between the first and second half of the season for the Spartans has been their ability to put runs on the board. During the 4-6 start Stanwood averaged just 2.7 runs per game. That number doubled to 5.4 during the season-closing 9-1 run.
“The thing that’s kept us in this whole year has been that we have had outstanding pitching and defense,” Matt Brennan said. “… Then, the bats came around so we didn’t have to manufacture runs, and (the team) just never gave up. They never thought that they were out of a game.”
Stanwood’s success has also been led by its ability to pull out tight games. The Spartans entered their matchup against Archbishop Murphy with a 7-4 record in contests decided by two runs or less and fittingly found a way to win another tight one in their biggest game of the season.
Stanwood (13-7, 10-4 league) took advantage of a leadoff walk and a throwing error and took a 1-0 lead on Treyton Mascarenas’ RBI fielder’s choice in the top of the first.
Archbishop Murphy (9-10, 7-6) answered back with a run in the first inning after a single and back-to-back hit batters loaded the bases. Malaki Hernandez drew a two-out walk on a 3-2 pitch that made it 1-1.
Fielding mistakes once again plagued the Wildcats in the third.
Two Stanwood batters reached base on throwing errors to set Cameron Bailey up for his RBI single through the left side of the infield. A wild pitch moved runners to second and third and a balk allowed Braedon Requa to cross the plate for a 3-1 lead.
Max Rodabaugh lined an RBI double into right-center in the fourth to pull Archbishop Murphy within 3-2. Colin Hightower tied it on the next at-bat with a sac fly to center field. The throw to home bounced past Stanwood’s catcher, went to the backstop and a Wildcats base-runner tried to take home on the miscue, but the Spartans recovered and got the ball back to home plate just in time to lay down a tag for an inning-ending out that kept the game tied.
Stanwood threatened to take the lead in the fifth after back-to-back singles by Requa and Bailey. Mason Goodson hit a sinking line drive into left field and Mathias Bolton saved at least one run with a spectacular diving catch.
Matthew Brennan tossed a scoreless fifth inning before coming up for his first at-bat of the game in the sixth. The junior lofted a well-placed fly ball into right field that beat the shift and dropped in for a two-out double. Stephenson came up next and found the gap in left-center for the game-winning score.
“It feels amazing to come through in the clutch when we needed it,” Stephenson said. “It was awesome.”
Matthew Brennan worked around a single and a hit batter in sixth and closed the door with a perfect seventh.
“Matthew has done that all year for us,” Matt Brennan said. “He’s thrown three, four innings of relief. He comes in with the bases loaded. So, we don’t even hesitate to put him into a high-stress situation because he just lives for it.”
Matthew Brennan struck out one and allowed just two base-runners over his three innings to earn the win. Bailey went 2-for-4 and Brandt Gilbertson was 1-for-2 with a walk and a run scored for the Spartans.
Will Jentoft threw four strong innings of relief for the Wildcats, striking out three and allowing one run on five hits. Rodabaugh reached base three times and delivered two of Archbishop Murphy’s three hits.
Stanwood’s win gave a simple conclusion to what could’ve been a chaotic finish to the Wesco 3A/2A North season.
If the Spartans had lost, it would have created at least a four-way tie for first place in the league after Snohomish beat Monroe and Arlington beat Everett on Thursday. Archbishop Murphy could have made that a five-way tie with a win in their final game next Monday.
But there won’t be any head-spinning tiebreaker scenarios to go over because the Spartans took matters into their own hands.
“It feels awesome,” Bailey said. “We just battled all year.”