By ERICK WALKER
The magic socks ran out of juice Saturday night for the Kentlake High baseball team.
Looking to win the school’s first-ever title, the Falcons ran into a buzzsaw, falling 10-1 to Snohomish in the Class 4A state championship game at Safeco Field.
“It worked all year long,” said Kentlake coach Jason Evans, referring to the team’s old-style black, crimson and white-striped stirrups it sports.
During the season, when the Falcons needed a rally, players pulled up their pants knee-high, showing off the old-style socks.
Friday night in Kentlake’s 5-4 semifinal victory against Richland, the magic was evident. The Falcons pulled up their socks before the top of the fifth inning against the Bombers. And though Richland managed to score one run during the inning, pushing their lead to 4-2, center fielder Andy Enders made a game-saving catch that can best be described as magical.
With two outs and runners on first and third, Richland’s Houston Castillo launched a shot to deep center field that appeared to be a sure-fire, two-run triple. Instead, Enders, who was playing shallow at the time, bolted toward the Safeco Field wall, went about 20 long strides back and, just before reaching the warning track, leapt up and made a spectacular over-the-shoulder grab.
The catch saved two runs and prevented a big inning for Richland.
“He’s a fantastic outfielder and he gets the job done for us day in and day out like that,” Evans said. “He got a bad jump … (but) got back there quick and kind of looked like Ichiro out there.”
“I went pretty far (to catch it),” the mild-mannered Enders said.
The catch set the stage for Kentlake’s dramatic comeback. The Falcons cut the deficit to 4-3 in the sixth on a sacrifice fly from Doug Christie, scoring Matt Smith.
Kentlake’s big, sock-aided magic, however, didn’t surface until the seventh. Down 4-3, designated hitter Miles Nagel tied the game at 4-4 with a sharp single to center field, scoring courtesy runner Ryan Gallagher. Two batters later, Kentlake’s Lewis Larson delivered the game-winner with a line drive into the right-center gap, scoring Bobby Joe Tannehill from third.
“It’s exciting,” Larson said. “I had to do it for the team.”
Kentlake sophomore right hander Zach Wright wobbled at times, but never cracked, working six strong innings on the mound, scattering seven hits and striking out 10. Enders pitched a scoreless seventh inning to record the win.
But all the magic in the world couldn’t help the Falcons the following night against Snohomish.
The Panthers struck for five third-inning runs on five hits, highlighted by Ethan Hargrave’s three-run homer into the bullpen just beyond the left field fence. And while the Panthers’ offense was in high gear, the Falcons couldn’t do much of anything against Snohomish right-hander Aaron West, who allowed just two hits and struck out 11 batters to pick up the win.
“I was just trying not to throw too many of the same pitches in a row. I tried to keep them off balance, that was the main thing,” said West, who entered the championship game sporting a paltry 0.10 ERA. “This is the best feeling ever.”
Not enough magic left
Down 5-0 heading into the top of the fourth, the Falcons turned to the socks one last time.
And momentarily, that magic returned as Nagel launched a high, majestic moonshot of a home run well over the left-field wall.
“That was amazing,” said the 6-foot-4 Nagel, who missed all of last season and part of this spring with an injured shoulder, but showed he was plenty healthy this past weekend, driving in four of the Falcons’ six runs. “It made me smile.”
The Falcons managed just one more hit the rest of the night off West, a line-drive single to left field in the fifth inning by Enders.
“There were only two games (the socks) didn’t work,” Evans noted. “You know what? These guys believe in it, that’s why we keep doing it.”
Added Tannehill, “We just pull them up to see what happens. Maybe it’s a coincidence (that things seem to happen when we pull our socks up).”
What wasn’t a coincidence was how the Falcons played up until the championship game.
Picked to finish among the contenders in the South Puget Sound League North Division before the season began, virtually everything went right for Kentlake this season. It included winning streaks of eight and five games respectively, a North Division title, a district title and the school’s first-ever appearance in the final four.
And the Falcons did it with power, illustrated by the 23-2, five-homer drubbing of Bothell in the state quarterfinals. They did it with defense, particularly from shortstop Tannehill, who was a one-man highlight show all year; and, of course with pitching, led by sophomores Christie and Wright.
Add it up and there certainly wasn’t a down feeling after Saturday night’s loss despite Snohomish celebrating in a pile on the mound in the background.
“It’s never happened in school history. In the beginning of the season, we knew we had the team and came out every day to do it,” senior catcher Marcus Evans said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime feeling, and to have it in (my) last year and have the camaraderie of everybody, it’s the best.
“It doesn’t get better.”
And considering the Falcons graduate just three starters, there’s reason to believe a return to Safeco is possible.
“I plan to be back here,” Jason Evans said.