One season removed from finishing among the final top four teams in the Class 3A state playoffs, the Sumner Spartans baseball team is moving up into the 4A SPSL.
The 3A South Puget Sound League was tough, and it was incredibly hard to make it out and into the 3A state playoffs. But by the end of the regular season, any team that made it to the playoffs was battle tested and ready for the competition.
When Sumner reached the postseason, the Spartans took their season straight to the state semifinals before losing to Lakeside of Seattle and Southridge in the consolation game, finishing fourth in state.
“I think we’re the underdogs (this year), I love it,” Sumner coach Casey Adcox said. “We’re the underdogs coming into the league with the big boys. We’ll let Puyallup be the big boys with the target on their backs. We’ll be the hunter and not the hunted, which will be nice. There’s no soft games at all.”
Now the Spartans enter new territory where catcher Jake Gehri, third baseman/outfielder Ben Wilson and starter Gabe Smith will have to guide Sumner through arguably a tougher league season than a year before.
“Both of my parents went to Sumner when that (Puyallup-Sumner) rivalry was at it’s best,” Gehri said. “I’m really looking forward to playing them because they have that big name in the baseball world, being Puyallup. Being at Sumner, I’m really looking forward to taking them down off their pedestal.”
Sumner (0-1) has painted a large target on last season’s 4A SPSL champs, Puyallup (0-1), as well as previous 4A state champion (2015) South Kitsap (0-0).
With Gehri, a Division I-level catcher with offers from both Yale and Washington State, Sumner is in good hands.
“Having a guy behind the plate who can block anything you throw in the dirt, and then throw out a guy trying to steal on him, that makes you comfortable as a pitcher,” said Smith, who will pitch for Everett College next season.
Gehri, a junior, might have the best arm behind from behind the dish in league, and it has shown up plenty of times for the Spartans over his career as well as something he takes personally.
“I don’t want anyone stealing on me,” Gehri said. “It’s a personal mission of mine to prevent as many guys, or put fear in a guy that I’ll throw them out if they attempt to steal on me.”
Beyond the rocket arm, Gehri brings so much more to the game for Sumner. The catcher utilizes that Ivy League-level education potential to its fullest during games, often leaving players laughing after the fact.
“Sometimes during a game, he’ll come out and tell me what he sees and what I need to do to adjust on the mound, and then when I get back to the dugout, coach Adcox will tell me the exact same thing Jake just told me,” Smith said. “It’s amazing how ahead of the game he is at times. He’s reading the batters and figuring out how the beat each hitter.”
The ability and insight to the game give Sumner hopes to take that big step into the 4A SPSL both this season and next.
Probably no hitter in Sumner’s lineup is more physically imposing than third baseman Ben Wilson, whose linebacker strength can drive the ball with the flick of his wrist.
His physical skills allow him to play either at third base (his natural position) or in the outfield, giving Sumner multiple options to deploy their big thumper.
“It’s nice having a guy like Ben hitting in front of you because pitchers will more likely throw you fastballs,” Gehri said. “He helps start a lot of big innings for us.”
With Wilson in tow, Sumner has the punch in its lineup that can help the Spartans deal with one of the toughest leagues in state.
“We just figure, we’ll go out there and give it a go. Hopefully we’ll be in the mix,” Adcox said.