Bearcat Trio Meets Up in Baseball’s Apple Cup

TEAMMATES: 2018 W.F. West Graduates Dakota Hawkins, Brandon White and Tyson Guerrero All Pitch in Season-Ending UW-WSU Baseball Series

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Three years ago this week, the W.F. West High School baseball team was wrapping up its season with a 23-3 record and a third-place finish at the 2A state tournament. Brandon White, Tyson Guerrero and Dakota Hawkins were together on the diamond for the last time — or so they thought.

The trio has played against each other — on different Little League and Babe Ruth teams — and together — on youth all-star teams and culminating at W.F. West — hundreds of times. Their paths have intertwined for the past three years, but it wasn’t until last weekend that the trio met up together on the diamond again for the first time since 2018. Guerrero’s University of Washington Huskies traveled to Pullman to face the Washington State University Cougars, who feature both White and Hawkins in the pitching rotation.

It was the season-ending series for both teams and potentially the last time in a collegiate uniform for the trio. All three are eligible for this year’s MLB draft.

“Being away from home is a new thing for me this year and seeing Tyson, having my parents, former coaches and some buddies from school there made it feel like almost being back home,” Hawkins. “It was a really cool way to end the year.”

White agreed.

“I’m lucky that I have family close and my parents able to visit, but this weekend kind of felt like a reunion of sorts,” said White, who has an aunt and uncle who live in Pullman. “It was cool to have some former coaches and teammates there and for them to see the journey of all three of us.”

It was a good way to wrap up the season, Guerrero noted.

“We haven’t been able to have many fans this year,” he said, “so it was a pretty cool experience to have family, friends, former coaches and players there for that last series.”

 

A Weekend to Remember

The Cougars won baseball’s Apple Cup series, 2-1, while all three local products showed their stuff.

White opened the series for the Cougars, going six strong innings in an 8-1 win on Thursday, May 27. The right-hander allowed just three hits and one unearned run while striking out six.

Guerrero started Game 2 for the Huskies on Friday, throwing a season-high 111 pitches and allowing four runs over 5.2 innings to get the win.

Hawkins was the first pitcher out of the bullpen for WSU in Friday’s game, working three strong innings with four strikeouts, a walk, and two earned runs.

“There were a few nerves throwing against my old school and teammates,” admitted Guerrero. “But I went into the weekend like any other series and felt pretty good about how it went.”

For three middle innings, it was Guerrero vs. Hawkins on the mound. Neither player could remember exactly the last time they faced each other.

“I really didn’t think about it during the game. You have to just go out there against an opponent and do what you’ve been doing all year,” said Hawkins, adding that their Babe Ruth days — with Guerrero playing for Washington Orthopaedic and Hawkins playing for Tires, Inc. — was likely the last time they faced off.

“Not knowing what the future holds, it was pretty cool,” Guerrero said of the matchup.

The Cougars finished the season 26-23 and the Huskies 20-30.

“It’s about the process and getting better, that’s our focus here,” said White. “We’ve worked really hard to develop that culture.”

 

The Path Less Traveled

After graduation in 2018, the trio took their separate paths to college.

White — co-MVP of The Chronicle’s All-Area baseball team — was drafted in the 14th round of the MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, following a season in which he went 7-2 with a 0.34 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 55 innings.

Guerrero, the other All-Area co-MVP, headed to Pullman to play for the Cougars after being named Evergreen 2A Conference MVP for the second straight season. As a senior, he was 7-0 on the mound with a 1.17 ERA and hit .429. He culminated his career by no-hitting West Valley in the third-place game at the state tournament.

Hawkins signed to play at Lower Columbia College after hitting .471 in his senior year and posting a 0.95 ERA in 22 innings on the mound, which landed him a spot on the All-EvCo first team as well as the All-Area team.

White, though, turned down the Dodgers and joined Guerrero in Pullman for the 2019 season.

All three excelled in their freshman years:

• Guerrero appeared in a dozen games, had a sub-3.0 ERA and hit just under .300 as a two-way freshman phenom for the Cougars.

• White tied the WSU freshman record by starting 14 games and recorded 49 strikeouts in 58 innings.

• Hawkins went 3-0 with 32 strikeouts in 10 appearances for LCC.

Guerrero, though, grew weary of the Palouse and decided to transfer to Lower Columbia last year and join Hawkins in Longview.

“Looking back, I think I just rushed into the decision (to go to WSU),” said Guerrero. “I left (for Pullman) a week after I graduated from high school to go over there for summer school. I just don’t think I was prepared mentally to be away from home so quickly.”

In the 2020 COVID-shortened season, all three had solid years. It was good enough for Guerrero to be offered a scholarship in Seattle to play for the Huskies and Hawkins got a call from WSU.

“COVID was tough because I was deciding if I wanted to go back to Lower Columbia and I got some other calls and offers,” said Hawkins. “But right after last year’s season, WSU contacted me and I talked to Brandon, and he said the new coaches were great and I thought it was time to be a Cougar.”

All three have excelled this year.

Before suffering a minor knee injury early in the season, Guerrero was tabbed as the Friday Night starter (No. 1 starter) for the Huskies. In his first two outings, he had allowed just one run with seven strikeouts in 6.1 innings pitched. On Feb. 26, though, Guerrero was fielding a bunt and had a slight tear in his MCL on his left leg. Since his return, he’s been the No. 2 starter and impressive; he was leading the UW rotation with a 2.57 ERA in 10 starts, with 48 strikeouts against 15 walks, heading into the WSU series. Opponents were hitting just .228 against him.

“The knee set me back a little bit, but I just tried to stay positive,” Guerrero said. “I took my time to heal and once I came back I felt pretty good and am happy with the way the season went.”

As the Friday Night starter for the Cougars, White had 12 starts going into the UW series, with a 5-4 record, 5.46 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 62.2 innings pitched. Opponents were hitting just .276 against him.

“I’ve been learning a lot from the new coaching staff about understanding all aspects of the game, especially the mental side and just the feel of baseball,” White said. “I know my walks hurt this year and affected my ERA and everything, but I was really happy with my overall mentality from week to week and the routine that I’ve learned.”

Hawkins, in his “jack-of-all-trades” role, had the third-most innings pitched for the Cougars (48) going into the UW series. He started six games, appeared in 18, and went 4-6 with a 5.81 ERA, one save, 36 strikeouts and 12 walks.

“This year I really worked a lot on the mental side of the game,” Hawkins said. “Our coaches have been great about always staying with the process.”

 

Looking Forward

Guerrero and White are both slated to play this summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League while weighing options from pro teams to come for personal bullpen sessions. Hawkins is tabbed to throw in Minnesota this summer.

“I’m excited to see a new part of the country this year, meet new people and learn new things. That’s what summer ball is all about,” said White, who knows the draft process from his senior year in high school. “People can tell you things, but right now I’m just working on getting better every day.”

Guerrero said he was excited after his season and looking forward to the draft.

“If it doesn’t work out, I have the great opportunity to return to UW, get my education, do my best and look forward to draft next year,” he said.

All three would be top returners for their teams if not drafted.

“I really look forward to coming back to WSU, but if I get drafted that would be a great opportunity, too,” Hawkins said.

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