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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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Prairie baseball finds its ACE en route to league title

Falcons embrace mantra of attitude, commitment and effort in breakout season

By , Columbian staff writer
3 Photos
Prairie baseball players line up to greet Skyview players after a game on April 5 at Skyview High School.
Prairie baseball players line up to greet Skyview players after a game on April 5 at Skyview High School. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

En route to Prairie’s first league baseball title in over a decade, the Falcons are beginning to establish a new motto they call “ACE.”

First-year varsity head coach Tanner Bogart introduced the team to the acronym, which stands for attitude, commitment and effort. The thinking is, those three areas are all within an individual’s control. So by getting everyone to dedicate themselves to each of them, in Bogart’s opinion, can make a world of difference for a team.

“Your attitude on and off the field has got to be a certain way. Your effort on the field could be 100 percent even if you’re not getting hits or calls to go your way,” Bogart said. “… Then, your commitment to your teammates, whether you’re playing, whether you’re injured, whether you’re a starter coming out, that’s the motto we really got to focus on to be successful.”

Once all three tenets came together, the Falcons hit their stride. By winning the 3A Greater St. Helens League title, its first league baseball crown since 2009, Prairie will face Gig Harbor in the 3A bi-district tournament with the winner moving on to the state tournament. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Evergreen High School.

The Falcons (13-8) boast a deep pitching staff led by the likes of Brady Trombello, a Texas Tech signee, Isaac Watson and Nate Merritt, whose season was cut short by a broken thumb injury. They have dependable defense at every position on the field, plus a potent lineup that averaged a 3A GSHL-best seven runs per game. And, of course, they have their motto, ACE.

“I feel like it’s a great way just to (have) three quick things to keep yourself checked in,” Prairie senior Dylan Gaylor, one of the team’s captains along with Jackson Upton. “If you get all those three checked off, you’re having a great day no matter what. Whatever the result is at the game, it doesn’t matter … if you had great attitude, good commitment and great effort.”

Bogart, a Columbia River High School alumnus, played prep football under longtime coaching legend John O’Rourke, who led the program for 22 seasons until his retirement in 2015.

On the first day of practice as a freshman, Bogart recalled a meeting with the varsity, JV and C teams during which O’Rourke talked about the ACE model the program embodied. Bogart also saw a few players sporting shirts with those three letters on it. Once Bogart learned what the acronym meant, it stuck with him.

“Especially in baseball where it’s such a hard game,” Bogart said. “You get three hits, four hits in high school out of 10 and you’re successful. Yet you could absolutely have four sting rod outs, fly outs to the warning track or a guy makes a diving catch, but you still have to have a great attitude and effort to go forward. You can’t just give up on the play. Once I learned that, I’ve always tried to bring that with me into my work, into my family, into leading these boys.”

Prior to this spring, players first started hearing about the motto from coaches during offseason workouts. Bogart sensed there was some hesitancy to embrace it at first, or at least put all three pieces together at once.

Prairie dropped three of its first four games of the season, as well as its first 3A GSHL series against Evergreen.

The Falcons appeared on their way to another loss on March 27 when they trailed Mountain View by five runs late.

Then, the improbable happened. Prairie scored six unanswered runs in the bottom of the seventh and walked off with a 12-11 win on Noah Severson’s winning run. Players and coaches point to that win as the moment their season turned for the better.

“That was a great team effort, and that was a great way for our team to bond,” Gaylor said. “Especially after the win, the energy was great. We kept that energy going on and on.”

Prairie won all of its remaining 3A GSHL games, including the final one, a 5-3 win over Kelso on May 1 to clinch an outright league title.

Ending that drought for the program, players said, was a proud moment.

The Falcons feel like they’re playing their best baseball in May. Now, they’ll soon find out how they stack up in the 3A bi-district tournament.

“I think we can make a deep state run,” Trombello said.

Talent can only take a team so far. Add in attitude, commitment and effort, though, and the Falcons have a winning recipe.

“The job’s not finished,” Upton said.