Tahoma’s Thomas Hammett thought his coach was joking.
After all, what coach in his right mind would call a straight steal of home plate with two outs in the top of the fourth inning with a three-run lead?
Russ Hayden wasn’t joking.
And, considering the longtime coach has been at this business for more than 20 years, Hammett figured Hayden knew quite well what he was talking about.
Hayden, in fact, does.
And Hammett, blessed with speed to burn, made his coach’s wild call pay big dividends.
Moments after drilling a three-run triple to the left-center gap, Hammett made good of a straight steal of home plate and, in the process, took the wind out of Kentwood’s sails in leading the Bears past the Conquerors on Tuesday in a South Puget Sound League North Division game, 16-6.
“(Hayden) just turned to me and said, ‘Do you want to steal home?’ I was like, ‘Uh, yeah. Sure.’ He turned around and made the sign and I was like, ‘Oh God, he’s serious,’” laughed Hammett, who went 2 for 5 with five runs batted and the critical steal in the win. “I don’t know if (batter Taylor Smart) was supposed to bunt or if he was even given the bunt sign.
“I thought (the ump) was going to call me out all the way.”
Hammett slid just under a high tag from Kentwood catcher Taylor White to secure the run and push Tahoma’s lead to 9-5. Kentwood, which came out strong and even had a 5-4 lead after three innings, went flat after the play, yielding 10 more runs over the next two innings.
“Did it catch us off guard? Yeah. Any time you have two strikes on a hitter, two outs and a guy steals home, it’s going to catch anybody off guard,” Kentwood coach Jon Aarstad said. “But that’s no excuse. I think our catcher made a good play, I thought the kid was out, personally, but it wasn’t called that way.”
The play summed up the last several weeks for the Bears (7-1 in league, 10-3 overall).
“I timed (Kentwood pitcher Alexander Lee) in the windup and he was about three seconds to the plate and Hammett is one of my fastest kids,” Hayden said with a smile. “But I said to Hammett, ‘Don’t go, don’t go,’ because he didn’t get a good jump at all.”
But when things are going well, as they are for the Bears right now, they’re going really well. Combined with Wednesday’s 7-2 victory over Kent-Meridian, the Bears now have won six straight games.
It’s all about taking advantage of opportunity, something Kentwood (3-6, 5-9) failed to do against the Bears and continued to struggle with in a 4-3 loss to Federal Way on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, that was never more evident than during the first inning, when the Conquerors let Tahoma starter Kyle Conwell off the hook after loading the bases with no outs. Conwell promptly got Kentwood’s Tyler Weinbrecht to hit a sharp comebacker to the mound, firing to home plate for the first out. Weinbrecht immediately was forced off first to complete the double play. Conwell then induced Kentwood’s White into an inning-ending ground out to third base.
The Conquerors threatened again in the second, putting runners on first and second with one out, but again were turned away empty handed.
“That’s been our whole season really,” Aarstad said. “We haven’t had that big hit. We need somebody to come in and get that hit. We had the bases loaded and no outs and didn’t get anything.”
With Lee, who was coming off consecutive shutouts of Kentridge and Federal Way, a pitchers’ duel appeared to be in the making. That is, until the Bears erupted for four runs in the third inning, highlighted by Hammett’s two-run single to left field.
But Kentwood responded, plating five runs in the bottom of the third to take the lead. Bryant VanEngelenberg, Lee, White and Nick Zografos all had run-scoring hits during the inning.
As quickly as the Conquerors regained the momentum, it was taken away.
Tahoma sent a total of 17 batters to the plate over the next two innings combined, scoring 10 runs on just five hits, but benefitting from six walks in breaking the game open.
The outburst and the recent run of impressive play has come as a bit of a surprise to Hayden.
“I really didn’t think we’d do much this year,” Hayden conceded. “I thought this would be a year we try and get better, we work on fundamentals and get ready for next year. But these guys are really making a statement for themselves.
“They can swing it.”
And, judging from Tuesday’s performance, steal it, too.
• ALSO: Kentlake had its nine-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday with a 6-5 loss to third-place Jefferson (6-3, 10-5). Miles Nagel remained hot for the Falcons (8-1, 12-2), going 2 for 4 with a pair of RBIs. Kentlake bounced back on Wednesday with a 5-4 win over Decatur. Andy Enders went 3 for 4 with a home run in the win over the Gators. … Kentridge (4-4, 5-7) snapped out of its surprising offensive woes on Tuesday, blistering Kent-Meridian (0-7, 1-9), 24-1. The Chargers entered the day on a three-game skid. Their 24-run outburst is nearly double the number of runs (14) they scored in their previous five games combined. Spencer Graham led the attack with a pair of home runs and four RBIs. Brady McGuire and Josh Evans also homered for the Chargers. Kentridge continued the trend on Wednesday, getting a big win over Jefferson, 4-2. Danny White went the distance on the mound to pick up the win.