(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)
SENSATIONAL SEASON: Colville baseball advances to state semifinals for the first time ever…
Colville hasn’t been here before, but they certainly deserve to be.
With their 8-3 victory over Freeman in the State 1A quarterfinals, Colville punched its ticket to Yakima County Stadium this weekend for the State 1A Final Four.
“This is the first time Colville has made it to the final four,” Colville baseball Coach Blake Sjordal said. “It is a great milestone accomplishment for our program.”
After middling seasons in 2018 and 2017, the big maroon machine from NE Washington has blasted its way through the regular season and district tournament with an 18-2 record. They’ll face Seattle Christian in the first round on Friday at 1 p.m.
“From my understanding Seattle Christian is a pretty solid team,” Sjordal said. “They have a couple of good arms, and a guy that throws with some velocity. We know that every team from here on out doesn’t have a lot of holes in their line up and has some depth on the mound. If they didn’t, they probably wouldn’t be in the final four. We just have to take it one game at a time, and play our game.”
Against Zillah in the first round of the State 1A Baseball Tournament on Saturday at Moses Lake, Colville overcame an early 2-0 lead by their foes in the second inning. The Indians scored a run in the bottom of the second, two runs in the third and a run in both the fourth and fifth inning for a 5-2 lead. Zillah pulled to within 5-4 in the top of the sixth but Colville answered back with a four-run rally in the bottom of the same stanza. While Zillah would notch three runs in the seventh, it was too little, too late.
John Knight pitched six innings and helped his own cause with two hits and two RBI.
“Jake Lindquist came through big for us on Saturday,” Sjordal said. “Jake came in relief to close out game one vs. Zillah, only to start Game 2 and toss a combined one-hit game with Tayeb Wilson in relief.”
Hunter True and Michael Fitzsimmons each had two hits in their game against Zillah.
The reward for their first regional win was to play Freeman in the nightcap at Moses Lake. It was the fourth time the Indians and Scotties matched up in the season.
“Playing Freeman for the fourth time this year was interesting, especially when its for a chance to punch a ticket to the final four,” Sjordal said. “With Freeman’s winning tradition, we knew they could not be overlooked, regardless of previous outcomes. Both teams burned their number one pitchers – Jace Phelan and John Knight – in the first round. We knew that would make for an interesting second game.”
Lindquist trotted out on the mound, threw five innings, gave up just one hit and only two early runs before Tayeb Wilson came in and finished out the game. Colville improved their record to 18-2 on the year with an 8-3 victory over the Scotties. The result of the game wasn’t always in the back, as Freeman held a 1-0 lead for the first two-and-a-half innings and then 3-1 after the top of the fifth.
But Colville notched a five-run rally in the fifth and added two more insurance runs in the sixth to pull away for good. Colville finished with six team hits including two from Grant Michalizsyn while Freeman committed eight errors during the matchup. Knight also had a double in the game for Colville.
“Our team just played well all day,” Sjordal said. “There were a lot of up and downs, but our players stayed the course and kept grinding out innings by playing our style of baseball.”
The pressure of regionals and the “one loss and you’re out” format didn’t seem to worry Colville players too much. After having spent the rest of the year winning a football and wrestling state championship, the Indians know it’s not going to be easy in the postseason.
“Most of our players have played in high pressure situations their entire high school career,” Sjordal said. “I know our kids thrive on a big stage and enjoy the competition. They respond well in adversity and have grinder attitudes. They never give up or give in. This team just has the mental makeup to compete and keep pushing forward.”
In both regional games, Colville had to come back from a deficit, showcasing that even if you get a lead on the Indians, it’s hard to keep them down. Now to uncharted territory – the Indians’ baseball program has never been to the final four in the state playoffs.
“After winning the super regional, our team was very excited,” Sjordal said. “It was an awesome milestone and accomplishment for our program. Before pictures were even finished, our players wanted to know the next opponent. Just another example of our players understanding there is more to be done this season.”
What stood out to the Colville coaches this last weekend was everyone making plays when it mattered, free bases for opponents being limited and the meshing of the entire squad. They’ll need to keep that going into the post season. Seattle Christian has an 18-5 overall record and is ranked No. 8 in the state according to Max Preps. Colville is ranked No. 3 while No. 1 Montesano lost to Seattle Christian and No. 2 ranked Royal lost to Freeman – meaning that state rankings don’t matter a whole lot.
With two games left, there are a few wrinkles left for Colville to deal with. Sjordal has to manage who gets to pitch in two games in two days.
“If a pitcher throws over 30 pitches, he cannot come back to pitch on Saturday,” Sjordal said. “That alone makes the format interesting. Given the situation we are dealt with in game will dictate how we handle our pitching staff rotation, but at the end of the day, we have to win game one to get to game two.”
And if Colville does find itself in the state championship game – it’s not like the kids haven’t been there before, heck they’ve been at this stage already this season. But it will be the first time they do it on a baseball diamond.
“What a year it has been for Colville Athletics,” Sjordal said. “For spring sports to add to the historical year is awesome. There are a lot of things happening with Colville Athletics this weekend. I’m not sure if anyone in Colville will be around because they will be traveling somewhere to watch Colville High School sports compete.”