The 2021 baseball season has been monumentally different. A compressed season with shortened playoffs. New rules surrounding the baseballs. Masks.
But one thing was the same: The Bearcats were on top. After rising from the dead for a walk-off win over Columbia River, 5-4, in eight innings, W.F. West held off a late Tumwater charge to take the District 4 2A Baseball Tournament crown with a 7-6 win. Kolby Hansen’s single in the top of the seventh inning scored Andrew Stafford from second base, marking the go-ahead, and final, run in the final frame of a strange season.
“(It feels) better than amazing,” Hansen said of the tournament-winning RBI. “It’s a little nerve-wracking when you’re up there, but after it’s done — yeah.”
In both of Friday’s games W.F. West showed why baseball is a team sport.
Let’s start with the first game of the day: a semifinal matchup with Columbia River.
The Rapids started Sawyer Parkin, a slim 6-footer committed to Tacoma Community College with a 93-mph fastball and a nasty wipeout slider.
W.F. West managed to scrape across a couple runs early, but Parkin settled in over his 6.1 innings of work, finding ways to wriggle out of jams and frustrate the Bearcats.
For instance, in the bottom of the third inning, trailing 4-2 after River plated two runs and chased starter Brit Lusk (we’ll get to him later), W.F. West loaded the bases with one out and appeared poised to do the same to Parkin.
But Parkin got a pop fly and a weak grounder back to himself that he turned into an inning-ending double play. The senior did stuff like that all game, and it would’ve been easy for W.F. West to collectively shrug its shoulders.
But the other side of the ball picked up the offense.
That brings us to Lusk. And Gabe Smitherman. And Stafford. In that order.
Lusk wasn’t his normal sharp self. He hit two batters in the first inning, yet allowed just a run. He walked the leadoff hitter and gave up a double in the second, and still only gave up a run.
After he walked the first batter in the third, then beaned his third Rapid of the night. It was his last batter.
“I didn’t think he pitched too bad,” junior Brock Bunker said. “The first inning, it was rough, but he got out of there. I think we needed that, to get out of there. It wasn’t the best, but he kept his positive attitude the whole time and he was hyping up the dugout the whole time. It was great.”
Bearcat coach Bryan Bullock went to Smitherton, who yielded a pair of runs (both of which were charged to Lusk) that put River up 4-2.
Parkin, meanwhile, cruised — until Bunker stepped in with one out in the seventh, and proceeded to work an 0-2 count into an eight-pitch walk that put Parkin past his pitch limit.
That’s when W.F. West smelled blood in the water.
Max Taylor, a thorn in everyone’s side all day, walked, then Texas Tech-bound Drew Reynolds watched ball four fly past, loading the bases for Lusk.
“It’s gonna be in the back of your mind the rest of the night,” Lusk said of his chance to win or tie the game, “and I’ll probably be thinking about it next week and forever. But you just gotta understand you’re not the only one on the team, and you got guys behind you who are solid too and they’ll get the job done. And we got the job done.”
Lusk came through, hammering a single that scored Bunker and Taylor to tie things up and force extra innings.
A hit batter and singles from Stafford and Logan Moore loaded the bases for Bunker in the eighth inning with no outs.
His thinking was simple.
“‘I gotta get a hit,’” the junior said. “No matter what. Put it in play. Not straight to the pitcher. That’s my main goal there.”
He lined a soft one into left, and pinch runner Evan Stajduhar scurried home and joined his teammates in mobbing Bunker beyond first base.
“Everybody contributed, even the guys in the dugout who didn’t see the field today,” Bullock said. “It was a complete team effort today. Somebody asked earlier, ‘Who stood out?’ I can’t pick out one guy. Everyone did something tonight. It was so fun. To see the competitiveness come out and guys step up and do things, it was great.”
Stafford also took over on the mound in the fourth inning, allowing three baserunners — one on an error and two on a pair of sixth-inning singles. He stranded a runner at third in that frame, but went clean in the fifth, seventh, and all-important eighth inning.
“Honestly, I had no nerves because I got used to the situation closing,” Stafford said. “There’s no nerves. I knew my team would help me out.”
But the day wasn’t done.
W.F. West still had to play its biggest rival this season: Tumwater. The Thunderbirds had snapped the Bearcats’ 49-game Evergreen 2A Conference winning streak on April 21, a streak that had started after a loss to — naturally — Tumwater.
“We love to beat Tumwater,” Bunker said. “Nobody likes Tumwater.”
Tumwater, though, got four runs in the bottom of the second to take a quick 4-1 lead, with starter Blake Smith keeping W.F. West at bay.
But the Bearcats got a spark.
With Reynolds at first after a one-out single, Fugate lofted one into the out-blowing wind toward right, and it carried, and carried, drifting over the Bearcats’ bullpen for a two-run homer.
It was a massive swing in momentum cut the lead to 4-3 and lifted the pressure from Bearcat starter Logan Moore’s back.
“That home run just jump-started us,” Bullock said. “That really helped us.”
From there, it was a matter of putting together good at-bats and chipping away. And, again, that’s just what the Bearcats did.
Smith’s outing ended in the fifth after a pair of walks. Tumwater went to Austin Sheldon, and Fugate quickly chopped a single that stayed in the infield but scored a run.
A batter later, Stafford reached on a fielder’s choice, which scored the go-ahead run. Three batters later Bunker hit a hard ball up the middle, which caromed off the fielder’s glove to let another run score.
W.F. West took that 6-4 lead into the bottom of the fifth, only to see Tumwater scratch out a run to cut it to 6-5. The Thunderbirds used a walk, a single and two hit batters to tie things up in the sixth.
Stafford singled in the seventh and took second on a wild pitch. With two outs Hansen, the No. 8 hitter in the Bearcat lineup, flicked a 3-1 fastball through the four-hole on the ground, and Stafford charged around third and headed for home.
The throw was wide and the tag ever so late, and Stafford scored the go-ahead run.
Hansen said he’d been working on that situation with assistant coach Jason Kelley all year.
“We’ve been working on my approach to drive it right-center gap,” Hansen said. “So I give that one to him.”
Smitherton made the bottom of the seventh inning anticlimactic, and the Bearcats hoisted the hardware as, again, District 4’s top 2A baseball team.
Can you put a day of baseball like Friday into words?
“You really don’t,” Hansen said. “You just remember it. This was our seniors’ last ride. One way to go out, I guess.”