When the high school baseball season wrapped in May, Emerald Ridge coach Larry Marshall didn’t hang up the cleats.
A 42-year coaching veteran, Marshall — who coached 19 seasons at Pacific Lutheran University and took over ER’s head coaching job in 2014 —transitioned to summer ball with the Puyallup Knights 18U select team.
So did seven of the players on his ER roster.
“When I was hired (at ER), my No. 1 thing was to keep the players on South Hill on South Hill,” Marshall said.
The philosophy seems to be working, as Marshall has managed to extend the high school season — or the progress built during it — into the summer. Seniors Chase Barbre, Andrew Curran, Chad Gideon, Nathan Packard and Dominik Zombik, as well as juniors Matthew Benjamin and DeShawn Johnson, all play for the Knights in addition to ER’s team.
“You know how guys play,” Packard said. “With high school, it’s so short you don’t really get many practices. You build a bond, I guess you could say, with those guys. So it just moves quicker.”
And translates into wins as well. The Knights are off to a 32-9 start, and recently won the 18U division of the United States Amateur Baseball Federation’s Fourth of July Classic tournament in San Diego.
The Knights bested the tournament’s 22-team field to finish 8-1 through the weekend, including winning out on Sunday, July 5, to claim the championship.
“We had to win three games and it was warm so guys really stepped up and got it done,” Marshall said. “It was a pretty exciting week.”
Sunday morning, the Knights edged the Lookouts of California, 4-3, for a trip to the semifinals. In the semifinals, they won, 2-1, against Allen Baseball of Houston, Texas — the only team to hand the Knights a loss in the tournament — on a walk-off double by Packard.
“In that situation, you’re trying to be you, not trying to make too much happen,” Packard said. “I was just trying to get a pitch I could drive, and I did.”
The Knights shut out the San Diego Hustle, 3-0, in the championship game.
“We don’t score a lot of runs, but we have great pitching, great defense,” Marshall said.
Through 41 games this season, the Knights carry a team ERA of 1.42 and a fielding percentage of .954.
“This is the first team I’ve had in 42 years of coaching that I haven’t called every pitch — I haven’t called a pitch all summer,” Marshall said. “That’s how strong Dominick Zombik is behind the plate. That’s why I wanted him to play with us this year right after the high school season, because he’s so knowledgeable and so talented, and it’s another mind out there.”
And having one knowledgeable ER mind — or seven of them — on the field makes the transition back to high school ball that much smoother. The Jags finished third in the SPSL South this season at 8-4 (13-9 overall) behind Puyallup and Rogers.
“These guys are all going to be guys that are impact players at ER next year, the seven guys that are out there, so that’s going to be huge,” Marshall said.