Todd Gibson knows the risk of handing a young team an overloaded schedule. If it’s too much, the season may be unrecoverable.
“I was a little concerned going into the playoffs that our confidence might be shattered,” said Ellensburg’s veteran baseball coach. “You walk a fine line with that. We put our youngsters through really good competition, which is good, but we didn’t win many games. They don’t want them to be in a position where they don’t think they can win.”
There was cause for concern. A month ago, the Bulldogs had a losing record at 7-8. On April 30, the team struck out 16 times in a game in Ephrata.
But as Gibson and his collaborators had hoped, the team didn’t stop believing.
Now the Bulldogs have won seven of their last eight and five in a row, including a 3-0 run through the CWAC district tournament with victories over top two seeds, Ephrata and Selah. On Saturday, Gibson’s crew will be at Davis’ Pete Orgill Field at 1:00 p.m. for a Class 2A first-round state game against Shelton
“We’re not going to throw it from anyone, our aces are a sophomore. And we’re not going to pass anyone, we haven’t hit a home run this season,” noted Gibson. “But we always have really good practices and the kids have been incredibly resilient. We threw these little kids into the fire and they responded.”
The Bulldogs have seniors in key positions, notably shortstop Ryker Fortier, second baseman Cade Gibson and catcher Jack Morrill. They made the All-League team and Fortier and Gibson did so with first-team honors for the second straight year. But there’s quite a bit of class from 2024 and 25 on the field, and sophomore Ty Estey proved crucial to the Bulldogs’ postseason run.
A week after Ephrata’s left Winston Roberts posted his career-high 16 strikeouts against Ellensburg, the Bulldogs faced him again in the district semifinals and still struggled but reduced the touches to nine. Estey, meanwhile, put up zeros in a three-hitter that gave his team a chance to outlast Ephrata in eight innings.
Six days later, Estey pitched six innings in an 8-5 win for the county title at Yakima County Stadium.
Despite a 14-9 record, the 2A state seeding committee did its homework and respected Ellensburg’s tight schedule, rewarding the Bulldogs with a No. 3 seed. The team shared league doubleheaders with Selah and Ephrata, who were ranked No. 1 at different times that spring, and they played six non-league games against state-qualified teams.
Shelton (17-6) is No. 14, but the team to be wary of in the Davis region is No. 6 Lynden (19-5), who won two games against Selah last month. The Lions play No. 11 Enumclaw (18-4) at 10:00 a.m. The winners will meet at 4:00 p.m. in a quarter-final
“We got better every week and, knock wood, we didn’t kick the ball around,” said Gibson, who had more than 200 career wins in his 12th season at Ellensburg this spring. “You have to know who you are and that’s a big part of it. We tried to beat it with teams and it didn’t work. We focused on defense and quality practices and it paid off.”
Safe at home
Despite stumbling at last week’s CBBN district championship, the West Valley baseball team was still on a 17-game winning streak, still won 20 games and still finished third in the Class 4A RPI. That two-month effort prompted the state seeding committee to award the Rams a No. 3 seed and a short trip to Yakima County Stadium on Saturday for their first-round game.
The composition of the four-team regional team appears to be fairly basic based on RPI and season records, with the exception of Skyline, West Valley’s first-round opponent at 1:00 p.m.
The Spartans from Issaquah were 8-11 three weeks ago and were close to failing the postseason. But after scraping its way with a No. 10 seed for a District 1-2 pigtail, Skyline won five of six games in the 12-day tournament, including shutouts over Lake Stevens and Jackson. The only loss was a 4-3 setback in the semifinals to rival Issaquah, who has the No. 8 for the state.
With that season-saving run, Skyline came 14-12 over .500 and earned a No. 14 seed. The Spartans are ranked 26th on the RPI.
In the first game at County Stadium at 10:00 a.m. No. 11 Sumner (17-6) meets No. 6 Kamiakin (17-5). Saturday’s winners then meet next week in a quarter-final at 4pm at Pasco’s Gesa Stadium for a place in the last four.
There is a very similar situation in the 3A games at Parker Field — No. 11 Peninsula (17-6) vs. No. 6 Lincoln-Seattle (17-6) at 10 a.m. followed by No. 14 Eastside Catholic (10- 13-). 2) against No. 3 Kennewick (20-3) at 1 p.m
Eastside Catholic was 7-12-2 on May 2 but got hot in his district tournament, winning five of six games and winning a state play-in game on Tuesday. The Crusaders are 39th in the 3A RPI.
Ellensburg Softball and Naches Valley Baseball faced elimination twice on the same day.
At the CWAC District Softball Tournament at Carlon Park Tuesday, Ellensburg’s Alexis Gillespie hit three homers and accumulated 11 RBI as the Bulldogs eliminated East Valley and Ephrata. Ellensburg hit eight home runs in those two games and will play Selah for CWAC runner-up state at noon on Saturday.
Naches Valley rallied in back-to-back loser games at Yakima County Stadium on Saturday, and Andrew Boyer contributed eight scoreless innings to help Rangers capture SCAC’s third and final berth. Boyer, who has not started a game all season, pitched five innings against Kiona-Benton in the winners-to-state game, giving NV time to recover from an early 3-0 deficit.
The 8th-seeded Rangers (18-6), making the program’s 26th state appearance, will meet No. 9 King’s Way Christian (20-4) in a Class 1A first-round game at Skagit Community College Saturday at 1 p.m.
As the Toppenish boys’ football team prepares for their home games this week for potentially back-to-back State games, Alexander Magana is fast approaching the Valley’s single-season goal-scoring record.
After scoring four goals in the SCAC district championship, Magana took his total to 39 — just two short of the record set by Sunnyside’s junior Garcia in 2003. His barrage earned him the WIAA Athlete of the Week award.
The top-seeded Wildcats (17-1-2) will play host to No. 16 King’s (6-6-4) in the second game of a first-round doubleheader on Friday at 6 p.m. The first game at 4 p.m. sends No. 9 Highland (16-3) against No. 8 Elma (16-1-2). The winners then meet in a quarter-final on Toppenish on Saturday at 13:00