Don’t think playing more baseball games than any team in the state over the past decade gets lost on this Puyallup High School baseball team.
The No. 1-ranked Vikings clinched a trip to the 4A state tournament for the 10th consecutive season with a 12-1 five-inning victory against Auburn Riverside on Tuesday at Heritage Park in Puyallup.
Puyallup – with the large target that comes with it – is the premier program in the state. Wenatchee has the second longest active state tournament streak, and it needs to win a winner-to-state, loser-out game on Saturday to push its streak to half of what Puyallup’s is (five).
"We’ve kind of set a tradition and an expectation," Puyallup coach Marc Wiese said.
"You want that. You want the target on your back and you want people to not like you because that must mean you’ve been pretty darn good. But we’re not feeling the pressure. If they give everything and our coaches give everything, that’s all I expect."
Puyallup (19-2) has won 19 consecutive games and 10 consecutive 4A South Puget Sound League titles. It plays Kentlake in the district semifinals at 10 a.m. Saturday at Art Wright Field in Kent.
But in a decade of state appearances, there’s one year that Wiese can’t help but compare this one to.
2014 – when Puyallup finished 28-0 to win its only state championship in school history.
That one had a dominant Oregon State-bound left-hander Luke Heimlich as the staff ace. This one has dominant Washington State-bound left-hander Michael Newstrom.
That one was fueled by a shocking first-round loss in the first round of the 4A state tournament the year prior – 3-0 to Heritage. This one is fueled by a surprising 4-1 loss in the first round last year against Cascade of Everett.
And this year’s group seems to have a unique chemistry like that one, too, Wiese said.
"We got one goal in mind – and that’s to win a state championship," Wiese said.
"I just want them to not want it so bad that they put all kinds of pressure on themselves. It’s that fine line."
Michael Spellacy said he was just trying to calm himself before Puyallup opened its 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict playoff opener against Auburn Riverside. Even afterward he seemed to jitter with nerves.
He said he couldn’t help but think about that early state-playoff exit last year against Cascade.
So Spellacy, a Gonzaga University signee, went 3-for-3 at the plate with two triples, a double and four RBIs, and in his increased role as a pitcher this season, he tossed all five innings with eight strikeouts, three hits allowed and one earned run.
Right fielder Tallon Yerbury, an Edmonds College signee for baseball after also leading the Puyallup football team with 58 receptions for 1,082 yards in the fall, went 2-for-3 with a double and Eric Peterson was 2-for-3. The Vikings had 11 hits in the five innings.
Yerbury said he couldn’t help but enter this postseason thinking about two years ago, as well, when Puyallup finished a win short (and a run short) of reaching the final four.
The team was trying to come up with its team motto and Wiese presented "Just row it." It stuck. Wiese said he was thinking of Nike’s "Just do it" slogan, but this version fits better because of Puyallup’s mascot, the Vikings, and the idea of rowing the oars on a Viking ship.
"We just want to row – we’re moving ahead," Wiese said. "We talked about the Viking oars and the different things and that’s where we came up with that."
He’s also had Collin Henderson speaking to the team about mental approaches. Henderson graduated from Puyallup as a three-sport standout before playing football and baseball at Washington State.
"He’s talked a lot about family," Wiese said. "Forget about me, I love you. Just creating that brotherhood."
Wiese doesn’t know why Puyallup lost to Cascade in the first round of state last year. He chalks it up to baseball being what baseball is – and why baseball is not meant to be played in a one-game series – and he understands it could certainly happen again this year.
But they really want another one of those state championships.
"I love the high school game," Wiese said. "I love coming out here with the lights on. I love our guys competing and the fans and the only thing that would have made tonight (the district playoff win over Auburn Riverside) better would have been our banners on the outfield walls and ‘Purple Rain’ on the loudspeakers. It’s just fun to come out and compete.
"And the guys feel the same way. This is a pretty close-knit team and I think I saw it from Day 1 in the weight room. They’re disappointed when we have a day off. They love being around it, and we just want to take this as far as we can go."
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677