Talk about a complete turnaround. Last summer, in their first season of triple-A American Legion Baseball play, the Chewelah-based Northeast Forty-niners finished at the bottom of the league standings with a dismal 3-17 record.
This year, with 10 of 12 players back in uniform and a couple of new players added to their roster, the 49ers won the Spokane American Legion Baseball AAA championship. The Niners recently completed their 2012 season at the top of the league standings with a 15-5 record.
The Forty-niners brought home their first league pennant last week when they won three games of their four-game series with the Spokane Bandits. Although they lost the series opener by a 4-2 score, the 49ers then beat the Bandits three times in a row to earn the league crown. Those winning scores were 6-2, 4-1, and 9-6.
Outside of their league schedule, the 49ers won the Belgrade Boys of Summer Tournament and the Trail Midsummer Classic tournament. They were quarterfinalists in the Spokane Fourth of July Classic tournament.
So, how did this hodgepodge assortment of ballplayers from six different northeastern Washington communities rebound from last year’s disastrous 3-17 season to win this year’s league championship?
“First of all, it really helped that the kids were a year older this year,” said Chewelah high school baseball coach Luke Jeanneret, who helped create the team last year.
“Second, they bought into the perspective of the coach and the philosophy of our program. Our goal when we started this program was to take highly competitive kids from this area who played hard to win and hated to lose, and we put them on the same team. We purposely went after players with this type of character.
“In fact, a lot of them have very similar personalities and they have developed an amazing camaraderie. The kids hung out together before and after games and practices. Several of them went to Chataqua together. They have built life-long friendships.”
Still, putting this team together was not an easy task, since most of the players competed against each other during the high school baseball season. High school rivalries had to be swept aside, and it took all of last year’s season to do that.
“The coach we chose made sure that if anyone on the team was going to be hated, it would be him, not one of the players,” explained Jeanneret. “Admittedly, he is a fiery coach and he gets quite animated at times, but the kids learned from him and they became better ballplayers.
“And third, the kids put their noses to the grindstone this year and ground out one win after another. They may have been a little intimidated last year by the big Spokane teams, but not this year. Beating the Spokane teams became a motivating factor.”
Six Chewelah ballplayers have been in the Forty-niner lineup all season long and a few more have been called up from Chewelah’s AA American Legion team from time to time as needed.
Nick Naccarato, a 2011 Chewelah graduate who played baseball for Big Bend Community College this past spring, leads the Forty-niners in at-bats with 134 and in hits with 50. He boasts the team’s second-best batting average at .373, and he also has 26 stolen bases to his credit and scored 48 runs.
Naccarato led the 49ers in double plays with eight. In the field, he had 47 putouts and 85 assists.
On the mound, Naccarato has been used both as a starting pitcher and in key relief roles. He finished the regular season with a 6-2 record and a 3.12 earned run average, along with four saves. He struck out 37 batters.
Cody Sweat has been unbeaten on the mound this summer with a 7-0 win-loss record. He was the lone Niner pitcher to go undefeated through the season. Sweat has a 3.36 earned run average.
Calvin Connall started in the Forty-niner outfield, where he had 65 putouts and four assists. At the plate, he had 26 hits, scored 23 runs, and batted in 21 runs. He also got in some time on the mound as a relief pitcher, where he had a stingy 1.23 earned run average.
Derek Smith was another Niner outfielder where he caught 40 fly balls for outs. In the batter’s box, he had 26 hits, scored 23 runs, and batted in 13 base runners. He is only a junior, so he will probably return to the team next summer.
Caleb Wiebe, another junior, was added to the 49er pitching staff this summer, where he bolstered the starting rotation with a 6-1 record and a stellar 2.53 earned run average. He struck out 22 opposing batters.
Dillon Bigler was a 49er infielder. He swatted 27 hits scored 26 runs, and had 19 RBIs. Defensively, Bigler had 33 putouts and 36 assists.
The Forty-niners lost both of their games at the regional tournament last week, ending their Cinderella season, but with an overall season record of 36-10.
By Geno Ludwig
The Independent Staff
In This Photo: Bottom row (l-r): Logan Maxwell (Riverside), Derek Smith (Chewelah), Bryce Wetherell (Riverside), Cody Sweat (Chewelah), Calvin Connall (Chewelah), Dalton Hansen (Deer Park).Middle row (l-r): Landon Scott Asst Coach, Coach Schuerman, Cordell Bean (Chewelah), Austin Hegney (Colville), Sam Sprague (Colville), Kyle Krustangel Asst Coach. Top row (l-r): Nick Naccarato (Chewelah), Caleb Wiebe (Chewelah), Connor Parker (Springdale) and Ryan Leone (Central Valley). Photo courtesy Sheri Naccarato