It’s as though time stood still for nearly five decades.
Along the Washougal River is where ex-Washougal High baseball teammates, longtime friends, and their head coach reunited two summers ago to share laughs, stories and memories of some of the best times of their lives.
Nobody missed a beat.
“When you win,” said starting shortstop and three-sport standout Lonnie Tipton, who now lives in Vancouver, “you don’t forget.”
And during the 1970s, Washougal did.
The COVID-19 pandemic put an end to Washington’s high school spring sports. It marks the first time since 1943 — when only track and field had a state meet — no spring sports champion will be crowned.
While we can’t look into the future champions, we can look back on its first.
Nearly 50 years ago, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association instituted a baseball state playoff system for its four classifications.
The timing was perfect in small-town Washougal.
In a six-year span, Washougal won Class A state titles in 1973, ‘74 and ‘78.
How powerful were the Panthers? Jerry Green tossed a no-hitter in the inaugural state title game, then in the following season’s championship game threw a complete game on 48 hours rest. Four years after that, another Washougal pitcher threw the first one-hitter in a championship game.
A bunch of boys from hard-working families in a blue-collar mill town is how Russ Barber describes growing up in small-town Washougal in the 1960s and early 70s.
There were few worries when playing youth ball at Louis Bloch Park in Camas or riding bicycles along the Washougal River in the heat of the summer.
“It was a slice of Americana,” Barber said.
Barber was an assistant coach on Camas’ 2002 3A softball state title team. Decades earlier, he was a two-time state champion second baseman and team captain for a program that has the most state titles of any team at Washougal.
A league championship — in this case, the Class A Trico League — was the highest honor before the WIAA instituted a state playoff system for baseball in 1973. Football came a year later. By that time, Washougal was in the midst of Class A dominance across multiple sports.
The football program under coach Lyle Pettyjohn and Cary Nagel had a winning reputation, and won its first state playoff game in 1974. Wrestling won back-to-back state crowns in 1970 and ‘71, and boys basketball made five straight state tournament appearances that ended in 1976.
Then came baseball.
It was a team with dominant pitching behind a pair of future MLB draft picks, a batting order with plenty of pop, and a defense that made opposing teams stop to watch on the top step of the dugout during pre-game infield.
Because if you played for head coach Frank Jackson, defense was the most important factor. Jackson came to Washougal in 1972 to coach baseball and teach history after an All-American career at first base for Washington State.
Players still echo the same statements about their head coach, who joined his team at the 2018 reunion. They had the talent, but Jackson put them over the top.
“He was that next step we needed,” said Tipton, Washougal’s four-year starting shortstop. “He made baseball fun.”
After every game, Tipton said, Jackson had players run the bases. Win or lose — and majority of the time it was a win, sometimes by double-digit runs. When Washougal beat its opponents by double-digit runs, they were the team running.
“Other teams would laugh at us,” said Green, the team’s multi-year ace. “It was something we enjoyed and one of the ways he kept us working hard and striving to be better.”
Tipton was a true three-sport star athlete as an all-league quarterback, leading scorer in basketball (Washougal placed at state basketball in 1973) along with playing shortstop. He was one of the few four-year varsity players in an era when not every high school served four grades. In a school of 395 students, Washougal went 42-3 in two seasons and never lost to a Class A team. The seniors ended their careers not only with back-to-back titles, but on a 22-game win streak.
“We had as much fun off the field as we did on it,” said pitcher Tim Wysaske, who now lives in Gig Harbor.
Rarely did a high school pitching staff have multiple aces who threw fastballs in the low 90s like Green and Wysaske. Each was drafted out of high school and college, but never signed professional contracts. Washougal turned to Green in its biggest games, and as a senior in 1974, he allowed just two earned runs and yielded 19 hits over 68 innings in the second of back-to-back titles seasons.
But that first state title still shines bright in the history books.
By May of 1973, state playoffs in baseball were all the buzz. Washougal (Class A) and Fort Vancouver (Class AAA) represented Clark County in the tournaments.
The town of Wenatchee hosted the Class A and B title games. Washougal faced the Carroll Patriots, a small Catholic school in Yakima. The school closed in 1988, but not before facing Washougal in all three championship games in 1973, ‘74 and ‘78.
The length of the Class B game pushed Washougal and Carroll’s start time past 10:15 p.m. Then, Washougal made it a swift game in under 2 hours behind Green.
“I probably warmed up enough that I pitched three games that night,” said Green, who retired in December as Fire Chief of Clark County Fire District 6. “… It was one of those nights everything went good.”
Green, just a junior, left the Patriots green with envy by tossing a no-hitter in the 7-0 win. He fanned 16, walked three, and didn’t allow a ball out of the infield. It is believed to still be the only no-hitter thrown in a title game.
He only got better as a senior. And so did the Panthers.
By the time they reached the 1974 state title game, the senior-laden team won 22 consecutive games and repeated as Trico League champions. Most of their nucleus from the previous season returned, so it was no surprise to the Panthers they reached this spot.
In fact, it was expected.
Facing Carroll again for the state championship didn’t come as easily as it did in the previous year.
This time, Green pitched 14 innings over a 52-hour stretch and much of the credit behind the 2-1 victory went to the Panthers’ head coach.
Washougal mustered just two hits, but Jackson called for a double steal in the seventh with runners at the corners to push across the extra run it needed. Dan McEnry scampered home as Allan Peake was tagged out at second base.
Defense sealed it for Washougal. Carroll opened its half of the seventh with an early run, but stranded the bases loaded to end the game. A force out by Tipton sealed the win.
“Frank Jackson won that game for us,” Tipton said.
Washougal didn’t make it out of districts the next three seasons.
It did in 1978.
Making a splash
What’s the best way to celebrate a state title? The 1978 Panthers jumped into their motel pool, then sat poolside the next morning in Yakima soaking up the sunshine before checkout.
Under head coach Malcolm Cameron — the coach known as Uncle Mal to his players — the attitude was win, not just participate.
Still, winning a state title to cap a 20-7 season felt “like a dream” for junior Scott Friedrich. He hit his first-career home run to ignite the Washougal offense in a 6-0 shutout of Carroll.
The young club with an all-junior pitching staff and five underclassmen in the everyday lineup made a big splash. It breezed through Trico League play at 11-1, and found its stride in the postseason. It had 24 hits at districts, 18 at regionals, and outscored opponents 14-1 the final three games to win its third title.
“We turned into a whole different team once we hit district,” shortstop Brian Shold said.
Four seniors — Shold at shortstop, catcher Gordon Jemtegaard, second baseman Chris Eckman, and center fielder Paul Piche — were eighth graders when Washougal captured the second of back-to-back titles in 1974.
Junior Carl Jones, the ace of the staff, was a newbie to the bunch. He moved to Washougal as a sophomore, but quickly got acquainted with success and tradition. Jones could paint corners with his fastball, and few had a knuckleball like the crafty left-hander.
“I’d throw it once or twice a game,” said Jones, now 58. He went 11-1 with six one-hitters and a no-hitter in 1978.
Jones’ two-hit shutout in the regional championship sent Washougal to the state title game later that week. In the championship game, he fired a one-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts.
Fifteen minutes after the final pitch, the Panthers were poolside still in full uniform.
“People just started jumping in,” said Jones, who served four year in the U.S. Navy after high school and pitched for Clark College at age 23. “You try to control yourself as much as you can, but it was kind of crazy.
“It was a big deal.”
In the 1970s, no baseball team won more state titles than the Washougal Panthers. Since its reign that decade, Washougal reached the state playoffs in 1995 and 2000.
Special times for special teams — even close to five decades later when teammates and coaches reunited as Class A’s inaugural baseball state champions.
Said Barber, the second baseman from Washougal’s first two title teams: “We didn’t miss a beat.”