This year’s formula for calculating The Chronicle’s 2021 All-Area Baseball MVP was simple. Who was the best player on the best team? That is W.F. West senior catcher Drew Reynolds.
Reynolds, who has signed to play baseball for Texas Tech this fall, was the top hitter for the area’s No. 1 baseball team. He helped the 13-1 Bearcats avenge their only loss of the season, to Tumwater, by capturing the district championship against the T-Birds, a 7-6 victory.
His hitting numbers were certainly impressive, boasting team-highs in nearly every statistical category, including batting average (.564); on-base percentage (.679); slugging percentage (.897); hits (22); RBI (19); runs (14); home runs (two) and walks (nine). He also hit a team second-best five doubles.
Pretty impressive for someone who missed all but four games his sophomore year due to injury and all of last season due to the pandemic.
W.F. West coach Bryan Bullock said he’s just as solid behind the plate as he is standing in the batter's box.
“He’s that guy that demands everyone’s attention,” W.F. West coach Bryan Bullock said. “The opposing team, they have to account for him. And then everybody on the (opposing) team knows they can’t run on us because we’ve got him behind the plate.
“Offensively, they’ve got to pitch around him. So he just makes every kid on our team better. He’s a perfect example of what an MVP is.”
Joining Reynolds on the all-area team are four of his teammates.
Senior Tanner Vaughn is the top pitcher in the area, and when he stepped on the mound, Bullock and the Bearcats knew they were guaranteed a win.
The righty posted a 0.71 ERA with 54 Ks and just three earned runs on 11 hits and 12 walks in 29.3 innings of work. He surrendered zero home runs.
“Tanner is the guy you give the ball to and everyone on the team knows they’ve just got to score one or two runs and we’re going to win that day,” Bullock said. “He’s going to go out there and compete and he just gives you that positive outlook and energy that you’re going to get that ‘w’ that day.”
Vaughn also contributed greatly at the plate, batting .306 with 11 hits, 11 runs, nine RBI and two triples with a .444 SLG%.
Senior third baseman and pitcher Brit Lusk was the Bearcats’ second-best hitter, tallying a .391 batting average with 18 hits, 15 RBI, 12 runs, a .462 OBP and a .543 SLG%.
“Brit really took on the role this year of being the inspirational leader and the vocal leader in the dugout,” Bullock said. “A lot of the kids responded to him and he took on that role. He backed it up with his numbers at the plate. He really stepped up for us with clutch at-bats.”
Senior center fielder Max Taylor played just eight games due to injury, but made the most of them, hitting .308 with eight hits, nine runs, three stolen bases and had a .419 OBP.
“Max is the guy you exactly prototypically want in your leadoff,” Bullock said. “He is electric on the bases, can steal second and third base and puts pressure on the other team when he’s on the base path. Out in center field, he can run down any fly ball.”
Senior outfielder Cade Haller took over center field duties when Taylor went down with an injury, finishing at the plate with a .293 batting average, a .431 OBP, 12 hits, 13 runs and eight RBI.
“Cade Haller is the Max Taylor clone,” Bullock said. “Basically we had two center fielders in the outfield because he’s just as fast at covering ground and making unbelievable plays out there. He hit in the two-hole right behind Max, so it was basically like having two leadoff guys.”
Switching gears but staying in the 2A ranks, Centralia senior Cameron Erickson was the quarterback in football, a starter in basketball and the Tigers’ catcher on the diamond.
A natural leader, Erickson, who is signed to play at Grays Harbor College, hit .293 with a .455 OBP, 12 hits, 14 RBI, seven runs and three doubles. He even got some mound time, tallying a .292 ERA with six Ks in 12 innings.
“Cameron is a competitor,” Centralia coach Adam Riffe said. “He has the ability to switch his focus from laid back to go when the game begins. Camron has been a great asset behind the plate.”
Joining him is senior pitcher/center fielder Noah Aliff, who struck out 36 batters in 34 innings on the mound, while hitting .308 with 16 hits, 15 runs, 10 RBI and three stolen bags.
“Noah is a complete player, from skill level, to attitude, to coachability,” Riffe said. “Noah’s work ethic will get him the success he deserves.”
Junior pitcher Tony Groninger was the staff ace, throwing a team-high 34.1 innings with 30 strikeouts and 42 putouts. At the plate he finished with a .304 batting average at the plate with a .431 OBP, 14 hits, nine RBI, three doubles and a team-high 12 runs.
“He is a quiet leader and great competitor who works extremely hard to get better every day,” Rochester coach Brad Quarnstrom said.
On to the 2B ranks, the top 2B player — and the second-best pitcher in our coverage area behind Vaughn — Adna senior Levi Gates was just as potent on the mound as he was with a bat in his hand.
Though he’s heading to Bellevue College as a shortstop, Gates was devastating on the mound as well. He went 5-1 with a 0.73 ERA and mowed down 74 batters in 38 innings.
At the plate, he hit .422 with 19 hits, 18 runs, 25 RBI, nine doubles, one homer, seven stolen bases and had a .733 SLG%.
“Levi was the heart and soul of our team,” Adna coach Jon Rooklidge said. “He was our leader, both physically and mentally. His excitement is contagious and the other players rallied around that.”
Pirates freshman Tristan Percival also made the list and helped Adna have a one-two punch on the mound. Percival went 4-1 with a 0.91 ERA and fanned 35 batters in 33 innings. When not pitching, he roamed the outfield and batted .409 with 18 hits, 13 walks and had a .603 OBP.
“Tristan had a fantastic freshman season on the mound and at the plate,” Rooklidge said. “He is a fierce competitor. It will be fun to watch him over the next few years.”
Senior shortstop/pitcher Laythan Demarest caused fits for opposing teams when he got on base, which was often. The speedy all-around athlete led the county with 21 stolen bases while hitting .436 with 17 hits, five doubles, 11 RBI and 21 runs.
“Laythan is a tough out,” Napavine coach Brian Demarest said. “He grinds through at-bats and is the prototypical leadoff guy. Once he gets on base, he becomes a problem.”
Teammate and junior center fielder/pitcher Gavin Parker was another prolific hitter this year, batting .439 with 18 hits, 19 RBI, 19 runs, nine steals, one homer and six doubles.
“Gavin has a motor,” Demarest said. “He doesn’t do anything halfway. Everything he does is with max effort. Give me nine of those.”
Senior Mikey Green is an exceptional defensive catcher who also got it done at the plate, hitting .333 with 10 RBI, 11 runs, four doubles and two triples.
“Heart and soul of our team,” Rainier coach Mark Mounts said. “Plays with a passion and energy and joy that is unparalleled. Constantly trying to make his teammates better.”
Senior first baseman Tryn Thompson posted the top batting average in the county (minimum 20 at-bats) hitting .550 (11-for-20) with nine RBI, seven stolen bases, five walks and only 2 strikeouts.
“He is very inspirational in a very quirky way,” Mossyrock coach Darren Kolb said. “He’s one of my team leaders and he’s really good with the younger players.”
Winlock coach Jordan Nailon will tell you himself, without junior first baseman/pitcher Mekhi Morlin, the Cardinals would have gone winless this season.
Morlin, nicknamed Big Tokyo, was the team’s No. 1 hitter and pitcher, batting .355 with a .400 OBP, 11 hits, nine runs, nine walks, two doubles and two triples. He was the only Cardinal to hit over .300.
On the mound: he went 3-4, getting three of the Cardinals’ four wins, while striking out 29 in 31.2 innings of work.
“Mekhi Morlin is a self-motivated, slow burning, day-in and day-out grinder of a baseball player,” Nailon said. “This was the first season where he had the chance to lead the Cardinals by example and he didn’t disappoint. Our ace, without a second horse in the race, Mekhi threw 107 pitches dang near every time he took the hill. He deserved to win several more games than he did, but he handled every adverse situation gracefully.
"A good hitter, he has great bat control and is beginning to develop his power tool. The only thing that depressed his runs/RBI this season was a lack of men on base and base hits behind him in the order.”
Senior pitcher/third baseman Ryan Bloomstrom, voted the team MVP by his teammates, was the Indians’ workhorse on the mound. He went 5-1 on the mound, winning five of the Indians’ six games, and finished with a 1.49 ERA, 49 Ks and eight earned runs in 37.2 innings pitched.
“He led by example and I could always count on him to throw strikes and keep us in the game,” Waag said.
Pe Ell-Willapa Valley
PWV ace Garrett Keeton was one of the top pitchers in the Pacific 2B League as a sophomore this season, posting a 2.23 ERA with 28 Ks and 10 ER in 31.1 innings, finishing with a 3-1 record.
He might have been even more impressive at the plate, batting .436 with 17 hits, 18 RBI, 14 runs and one homer with a .511 OBP and a .718 SLG%.
“Garrett is one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever coached,” PWV coach Kelly Barnum said. “Whether it’s bullpen work, BP or catcher drills, he’s going 100% and extending it well past when his turn is over. Every day, he leaves the practice field drenched in sweat and looks totally drained. There is never a doubt whether he got the most out of his workout.”
Junior shortstop Hudson Barnum also had a big year at the plate, hitting .417 with 15 hits, 11 RBI and 19 runs with a .523 OBP and a .583 SLG%.
Barnum literally ends every evening by watching MLB Network, and wakes up every morning for school and turns MLB Network back on, Kelly Barnum said.
“The kid eats and sleeps baseball,” Kelly Barnum said. “I think he knows the career stats for every player in the majors. It’s amazing. He carries that passion for the game onto the field and plays the game with an incredible baseball IQ, and an energy that makes the game fun for everyone around him.”