Delay but not defeat

The frustration is evident in Zack Gagnon’s voice.

The frustration is evident in Zack Gagnon’s voice.

So too is the determination.

Auburn Riverside’s third baseman and No. 3 hitter had designs on enjoying a dream season this spring. The kind of season that lands a kid in a very select group of elite players who can be considered when the league MVP is chosen.

But for Gagnon, a baseball rat by nature who will play next year at Green River Community College, that dream season took a nightmarish turn on March 17 when “flu-like symptoms” turned into late-night trip to the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital.

Gagnon spent the next seven days and seven nights in the hospital, first having his appendix removed, then for constant monitoring.

“That was probably the worst thing that could’ve happened,” said Gagnon, who hit a three-run homer in Auburn Riverside’s first game this season, a 13-11 nonleague loss to Kentwood. “I knew I would be out for two to three weeks.

But rather than considering his health, all Gagnon could think about was the diamond.

“It’s my senior year, I had a great year last year and I wanted to get MVP this year,” he said.

Gagnon’s frustration is understandable. He ranked third in the South Puget Sound League 3A in 2007 with a .512 batting average and tied for fifth in RBIs (17). Throw in the fact that Gagnon was one of the league’s few returning players to earn first-team honors last spring and that “MVP” dream was very much a possibility.

So much so that upon getting out of the hospital, one of the first things Gagnon did was head down to the local YMCA, get a membership and begin working toward a strong comeback.

“I was there every night for one, one and a half hours,” Gagnon said.

The Auburn Riverside star didn’t wait long before making a huge splash upon his return, belting a pair of home runs and driving in four in just his second game back, a 12-7 victory against Sumner on April 8.

“Me and mom (Jodi) were like, ‘Oh, I am back finally,’ ” said Gagnon, who has three home runs in five games played this season. “Everything was turned around.”

No doubt, the future – and dream season – remained relatively intact for Auburn Riverside’s standout third baseman.

“It was just a miracle that he was playing ball at all,” Jodi Gagnon said. “He was in full kidney failure when his appendix burst.”

However, as quickly as Gagnon got his luck turned around, the roller coaster that has become his season took a downturn the following day. That’s when a high-and-tight fastball met Gagnon’s left hand.

Though he managed to hobble down to first base, Gagnon later was diagnosed with a broken hand.

“It was supposed to be up and in, and it came right at my face,” Gagnon said. “I didn’t have time to turn. I put my hand up and it hit the back of my hand.”

The end result is three to four more weeks on the sideline.

“The guy is just shaking his head wondering what’s going on here. First his appendix, now this,” Auburn Riverside coach Chris Garrison said. “He was finally back, too.”

For Riverside, a team in the thick of the SPSL 3A playoff hunt, replacing Gagnon is a challenge of the highest order.

“Statistically, we won’t replace him,” Garrison said. “We have to keep positive and keep moving.

“But we’re crushed for him personally. He’s a baseball rat and loves the game.”

Even with the two major injuries, Gagnon remains determined to return this season. If the Ravens can work their way into the playoffs, the hard-hitting third baseman could be back by the end of April at the earliest.

“It’s very frustrating because I battled back through my appendicitis,” Gagnon said. “I only had half of a season left anyway. Now, I’m out three weeks again.

I’ll definitely work to get back in three weeks.”

And that’s exactly the type of determination the Ravens are hoping for.

Wins haven’t come easily for Auburn Mountainview in the tough-as-nails SPSL 3A.

But, more than in most sports, numbers can be a bit deceiving on the baseball diamond. That couldn’t be clearer for the Lions (2-7, 5-9), who entered the week trying to fight their way out of the league basement.

The Lions already have played seven one-run games this season, falling in four of those. None, however, were more frustrating than the 2-1 loss to Auburn on March 31.

The Lions actually were up 6-2 in the sixth inning when play was suspended twice due to lightning in the distance. More crushing, however, was the fact that, when the game was halted with two outs in the top of the sixth, the Lions had the bases loaded with sophomore sensation Brandon Williams at bat. Williams already has a team-leading five home runs this season.

“We left the field thinking we were in a suspended-game scenario,” Auburn Mountainview coach Glen Walker said. “Any time you leave the field due to weather or darkness, it works back to the fifth.”

Unfortunately for the Lions, they down 2-1 after five innings.

“It was too bad,” Walker continued. “The kids played well enough to win.”

The loss started a four-game slide for Mountainview, ended last Thursday with an 8-7, nine-inning victory against perennial power Bonney Lake. It’s the first time the Lions have ever beaten the Panthers.

Williams not only clubbed a pair of home runs in the win, but also worked the first eight innings of the game.

“He’s got some pretty good upside,” Walker deadpanned. “He’s pretty much a force.”

But despite the sub-par record so far, Walker firmly believes the Lions still have a shot at qualifying for the postseason. The top five teams from the SPSL 3A make it.

“It’s pretty wide open, there are no real front runners,” Walker said. “Everyone is just grouped into one big ball, I think.”

No doubt, the Lions have reason to believe. But to make a playoff push, Williams will need to continue posting big numbers with the bat and on the mound, where he has struck out 48 in just 34 innings of work.

Outfielder Cameron Tulip, who began the week with a team-leading .429 average, one home run, 12 RBIs and three stolen bases, also must deliver. Pitcher/first baseman Doug Clair, who has three home runs and 14 RBIs, needs to continue his hot-swinging ways.

“For us, we have the talent (to make the playoffs), it’s just whether or not the kids buy into the program and really stay focused,” Walker added. “This group is as talented as any I have had, they just haven’t come together yet.”