“Re-Elect Harlan Thompson.”
That’s what Christian Peters’ practice T-shirt says. It’s a white, dirt-stained shirt with a fading red logo, and it’s a tad too small for the 6-foot-2 senior pitcher’s frame. But he wore it to every Centralia High School baseball practice last season, and has the same plan this year.
Peters isn’t campaigning, he’s just superstitious.
“It’s actually a really old shirt,” he said. “(Thompson) ran for mayor — I don’t even know how many years ago. I wore it last year, and we ended up winning state. (My teammates) are like, ‘OK, you’ve got to bring it out.’ So, I wear it.”
Thompson — Peters’ great uncle and former Centralia mayor and city councilman — didn’t win the year Peters got the shirt. But that didn’t bring any misfortune to the Tigers, who won the Class 2A state title in 2015.
Now, Centralia is vying for back-to-back championships — the program has three total (2015, 1993, 1982).
“Obviously the goal is the state championship, but you don’t go into the year thinking you’re the team,” Peters said. “We just went (with) the momentum and kept building off of that, and we’ve got to do the same thing this year.
“Yeah, we lost a lot of seniors, and we don’t have as much pitching, but we’re just as capable as anybody else in the (Class) 2As to win it.”
Peters, who is the team’s ace and a University of Portland signee, could lead Centralia back to the state final. He pitched in the state semifinals last year, and was crucial in getting the Tigers into the championship game. He was playing third base when Centralia topped Selah, 8-3, for the title.
“He is basically our horse,” Centralia coach Rex Ashmore said. “If anything, I think people know more about him now, and know he is our No. 1.”
Quite the pedestal for someone who wasn’t supposed to be a baseball player.
Peters’ father, Bob, is the athletic director at Centralia College, part of the Northwest Athletic Conference, and a former basketball coach and player. The college’s gym is where Peters grew up.
“I can’t even tell you how many shots I put up in there,” he said. “Growing up, it was always basketball. Then, when you get to the point of eighth, ninth grade, you start realizing there’s some potential (in baseball), too.”
Peters said baseball became his primary focus during his sophomore year, but he didn’t want to give up basketball. He played through his senior season, finishing with a team-leading 16.1 points per game, and was a second-team selection on The Olympian’s All-Area boys basketball team.
Now he’ll trade in the court shoes for cleats.
“I think, just over the past few years, getting into high school is when he really started to focus on baseball, and thought, this is something I can go to college for,” Ashmore said.
Peters, who also plays infield and bats cleanup this season, will also dial in more on pitching, the position the Pilots recruited him for. He spent the offseason developing arm strength and agility to separate himself from other pitchers who can whip a fastball over the plate.
“He’s more confident in all of his pitches,” Ashmore said. “Before, when he fell behind (in the count), you kind of knew what was coming. I don’t think that’s the case with him anymore.”
Peters is more unpredictable. His arsenal includes his fastball (which tops out at 89 mph), a high-low curve, a hard slider and a splitter. Ashmore said he’s gained velocity since last season, and better command of his breaking ball.
“He’s a good spot guy,” said teammate Nolan Wasson, who plays behind Peters at shortstop. “I’ve always just noticed that he has this mentality up there that he’s just the dude. And he’s just going to go out there and get it done.”
Peters plans to get it done with his priority being another run at a state title.
“You can’t look past this season,” Peters said. “The future is going to be great, but this is what it’s about now. This team matters to me. So, I have to do what I can individually to make the team better. I’ve just got to focus on this year and not get too far ahead of myself.”
High school baseball primer
Team to watch: Centralia doesn’t quite have the depth it did last season – pitching or otherwise – but coach Rex Ashmore said the Class 2A defending champions have the tools necessary to make a run at another title, led by ace Christian Peters. Last year’s was Centralia’s first in more than two decades. The program has had three state-championship teams – 2015, 1993 and 1982.
League predictions: 4A Narrows – Gig Harbor, South Kitsap, Olympia, Timberline, Yelm, Bellarmine, Stadium; 3A Narrows – Central Kitsap, Wilson, Shelton, Capital, North Thurston, Lincoln, Foss, Mount Tahoma; 2A SPSL – Fife, White River, Franklin Pierce, Washington, River Ridge, Orting, Steilacoom, Clover Park; 2A EvCo – Centralia, Tumwater, Black Hills, W.F. West; 1A EvCo – Hoquiam, Aberdeen, Montesano, Tenino, Eatonville, Rochester, Elma, Forks; 2B Pacific – Rainier, Life Christian Academy, Ocosta, Ilwaco, North Beach, Northwest Christian, Chief Leschi.
Players to watch: Mitchell Dooley, Capital, INF, sr.—Had the hot bat for the Cougars last season, and started it with a six-game hitting streak. The first-team all-3A Narrows selection finished batting .406 with 16 RBIs and recorded a school-record 12 doubles.
Derek Downey, Olympia, P, jr.—The undisputed ace last year and again this year for the Bears. At 6-9, has a commanding presence on the mound, and has been Olympia’s go-to against 4A defending state-champion South Kitsap. Is 1-0 to start the season.
Keenan Milligan, Tumwater, OF, sr.—Was perfect in center field with zero errors in 34 tries. Also had 25 hits – 11 of them for extra bases – and 12 RBIs. Was first-team all-2A EvCo and finished batting .362.
Christian Peters, Centralia, P/INF, sr.—The University of Portland signee tossed a complete game in the 2A state semifinals last season to propel the Tigers to an eventual state championship. Finished the season at 6-2, with a .448 batting average and 19 RBIs.
Dalton Rush, Rainier, P, sr.—Tossed a no-hitter and three complete games last season on his way to a first-team all-2B Pacific selection. The lefty finished 7-2 with a 1.98 ERA and fanned 50 batters.
Best of the rest: Milo Ames, Black Hills, C, sr.; Brayden Anderson, River Ridge, P/INF, jr.; Keaton Carlson, Rainier, P/INF, jr.; Zach Carter, River Ridge, P/INF, jr.; Riley Christensen, Centralia, P/OF, sr.; Tate Determan, Black Hills, INF/UTL, sr.; Hayden Dobyns, W.F. West, INF/DH, sr.; Trevor Gregory, Shelton, INF, sr.; Scott Gunther, Olympia, OF, sr.; Calvin Guzman, Tenino, P, sr.; Dakota Hill, Yelm, C/P/INF, jr.; Chazen Hurd, Elma, C, sr.; Brody Holcomb, W.F. West, OF, sr.; Nathan Hutson, Black Hills, P/OF, jr.; Cody Jenkins, Capital, P/OF, sr.; Elijah Johnson, W.F. West, P/INF, sr.; Indigo Keeslar, Yelm, P/INF, sr.; Cole Lester, Black Hills, INF, sr.; Brenden Nee, Olympia, C, soph.; Ben Maratita, River Ridge, P/INF, jr.; Daylon Matthews, Yelm, P/UTL, sr.; River Reise, Rainier, C/INF, sr.; Tristan Robinette, Elma, OF, sr.; Lucas Reid, Timberline, P/C/INF, sr.; Noah Sirkel, Tumwater, OF, jr.; Brent Smotherman, Shelton, P, sr.; Kaleb Strawn, Tenino, P, sr.; Christian Valdez, Olympia, P/INF, sr.; Rob Wall, Tenino, INF, jr.; Nolan Wasson, Centralia, INF, sr.; Austin Whalen, Timberline, P/INF, sr.