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Champions roar: Lions snag state 3A baseball title
Auburn Mountainview baseball coach Glen Walker remembers the moment it all come together for his state 3A championship team.
“There are a lot of things I’ll remember about this year,” Walker said. “I’ll remember the retreat we had at the beginning of the season.”
Before the Lions had even had the chance to lace up their cleats and take to the field last February, Walker, coaches and players gathered at the school gym for a night of team bonding.
“They all stayed up until 3 or 4 in the morning,” Walker said. “The next Monday, things were different, attitudes were different. Guys were nicer to each other. It seemed like they all trusted what I was trying to do, and they trusted what each other was trying to do.”
For the top-ranked Lions (26-3), it was that trust and confidence that proved to be the difference, culminating with a 7-1 win over West Seattle in the Washington State title game at GESA Stadium in Pasco last Saturday.
“They believed in each other,” Walker said. “There was not one guy who thought they had to do it themselves. It was a combination of ‘if I don’t get my job done, the guy behind will. If he doesn’t, the guy behind him will.’ They learned early on that if we have an out left, we have a chance at winning.”
It was a lesson that would serve the team well all season, especially in the postseason.
“Once we started going through league and we were doing well that gave us confidence,” senior co-captain Matt Anderson said. “We had a feeling that we had a good chance of going all the way.”
After winning the South Puget Sound League 3A title, Auburn Mountainview stepped it up, capturing the district championship and surging into the state tournament.
After winning the opening game of the state playoffs, 2-0 against Glacier Peak, the Lions found themselves facing a familiar foe, league rival Decatur, in the quarterfinals. With its season on the line, Auburn Mountainview responded with a 9-8 come-from-behind victory to earn a semifinal game against Kennewick.
“We always had confidence during games,” Anderson said. “During the season we’d come back in multiple games. We always believed in ourselves, and our coaches believed in us.”
“We get a lot of energy in the dugouts. We get behind our teammates,” senior co-captain Brice McCulloch added. “We take it one at-bat at a time. We get loud. It gives our hitters confidence at the plate, and if we get the energy in the dugout then the guys in the field know we’re alive.”
Against Kennewick in the semifinals the Lions again found themselves trailing but were able to mount yet another comeback to earn a spot in the title game with a 6-3 victory.
The championship game was almost anticlimatic, with Auburn Mountainview firmly in control from the beginning.
“It was a big relief because we had (rallied) three or four times during the tournament,” Anderson said. “It was relieving to be able to jump out early and take the lead during a game.”
“When that final out … happened, I looked Joey Cassano in the eyes, ran up, gave him a hug and we started that dog pile,” McCulloch said. “That feeling of being at the bottom of the pile, I don’t think I can imagine anything ever feeling like that. It was really great. At that moment all we worked for came together and we were state champs.”
The state title is the first for the school’s baseball program but the second for Walker, who won a state title at Liberty with major-leaguer Tim Lincecum in 2003.
“We did it a whole lot differently this year, we won everything,” Walker said. “There is not a title out there that we don’t own right now. We didn’t have the stud, the (Division I) big-league Cy Young guy on the hill. The only similarity was that both teams were close, a tight-knit group that likes each other and plays for each other. Ultimately, I think that is the difference between being good and being a champion.
“I’ll remember that we did things this year that we’ve never done before,” Walker continued. “They are just a great, fun group to be around. From Feb. 25 until the end they were fun, energetic. They had great personalities. They worked hard and never complained.”