Evergreen arrives in time to win baseball playoff

Plainsmen advance to bi-district by eliminating Skyview from postseason

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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The .500 record in the league season was frustrating for the Evergreen Plainsmen.

They came into the 2011 baseball season with high expectations. A 6-6 mark in the 4A Greater St. Helens League was more than disappointing.

The Plainsmen, though, wiped away all of that disgust with one dominating performance Thursday evening at Skyview High School, at the perfect time, too.

Tommy Thorpe struck out 11 batters in a three-hit shutout, and the Plainsmen connected for 10 hits off of Skyview’s ace in a 7-0 victory in the 4A GSHL loser-out playoff game.

Evergreen will advance to the bi-district tournament next week in Tacoma in hopes of reaching the Class 4A state tournament. Skyview’s season came to an end after sharing the 4A GSHL title with Union.

Austin Hadley went 4 for 4 with a triple and two doubles and drove in three runs to lead the Evergreen attack. The Plainsmen broke open a close game with five runs in the top of the sixth inning.

“We struggled earlier in the season, but in the end, we got it together,” Hadley said. “It just took a little while, but we’re on a roll right now.”

With the way Thorpe was throwing, this game was over.

Thorpe got better as the game progressed, striking out five in the final two innings and retiring nine of the final 10 batters he faced.

“I thought it was going to be a close game, so I had to go 100 percent on every pitch,” Thorpe said. “I couldn’t let up on one pitch. Otherwise, they’d hit it.”

Not much of that going on for the Storm, who got a single in the third and two singles in the fourth inning.

“Evergreen came out and played to win,” Skyview coach Eric Estes said. “Their lefty pitched pretty good. Got to commend them for that.”

A co-league championship, Estes said, might be something the program can build on in the future, but it does not take away the pain from the season-ending loss.

“There were other thing we aspired to do, and we did not get it done,” he said.

Evergreen’s offense had a few hard shots, but also several well-placed bunts and infield singles against another ace, Skyview’s Kody Watts.

The game featured two Division-I signees. Watts is headed to the University of Portland, while Thorpe is going to Oregon. Unless they decide to turn professional out of high school. There were a couple dozen scouts recording the action.

“The more people looking at me makes me feel stronger,” Thorpe said. “I saw a lot of scouts. That made me want to throw harder.”

Hadley’s double in the third inning scored Zach Smith for a 1-0 lead. Thorpe’s surprise bunt for a hit with two outs in the fourth inning drove in Jacob Gosselin to make it 2-0.

Evergreen took advantage of four hits and two hit batsmen in the sixth to put the game out of reach. Smith and Sjohn Williamson each drove in a run, then Hadley tripled over the left-fielder’s head to score two more runs.

“He’s one of the best pitchers in the league,” Hadley said of Watts. “It’s pretty amazing to go 4 for 4 off of him.”

The Plainsmen had plenty of practice, with three days to prepare for Watts. Evergreen coach Chad Burchett said he and his staff threw out their arms trying to simulate Watts’ fastball, throwing batting practice from close range.

“We were pretty confident we had what it took to win,” Hadley said, crediting his coaches for their extra effort.

This marks the second consecutive season the Plainsmen have advanced beyond district play. The seniors understand this is a big change from years past.

“My freshman and sophomore year, we sucked,” Thorpe put it bluntly. “We’ve stepped it up the last two years.”

Even if this year’s squad took its time to arrive.

“This was the team I expected all year,” Burchett said. “We’ve been grinding every day to get to this point. We all believed this was a great team. We really thought we could be a team that could make some noise.

“We put it together at the right time.”