As far as curses go, it’s safe to say that Fife High School’s baseball team has broken it. That is, if there ever was one.
Trojans coach Shane Nixon kept hearing about it in the hallways last season. The whispers that while Fife’s boys soccer team racked up win after win in the state tournament every spring, the baseball team could never make it past their first game of the playoffs.
Were they … cursed?
“I told them that there is no curse going on here, that none of those teams have anything to do with you,” said Nixon, who has been Fife’s head coach since 2004. “Instead of making it the elephant in the room, I brought it out.”
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Fife is again the team to beat in the Class 2A South Puget Sound League at 10-2 overall and 8-0 in league play a year after winning the league title for the second time in three years.
But that hasn’t quite translated to state tournament success. The Trojans were there for the sixth time in school history and fourth year in a row last season. They beat Cheney in the first round — and that was the school’s first state playoff victory ever.
“After winning our first state game last year, the barrier has kind of been lifted,” said senior center fielder Jaden Hassell, who has signed to play at the University of Washington. “We’ve been able to see deeper into the playoffs and hopefully can make another state run.
“We just have to stay focused, stay humble, and play our game of baseball.”
And it’s not all that difficult to conquer curses when you have Hassell and senior pitcher and shortstop Tanner Knapp.
Hassell’s hitting a team-best .476 with 13 runs and 11 stolen bases in 11 attempts (despite missing Fife’s trip to California, where it lost its two games). He’s been selected to the coaches’ all-state team each of the past two years.
“Jaden has those raw tools that get our coaches excited when we talk about player development,” UW baseball coach Lindsay Meggs said. “He is a right-handed hitter who can hit the ball out of the ballpark and steal third base all in consecutive at-bats.”
Knapp, the 2A SPSL’s reigning MVP, plans on playing at Seattle University next year. In the meantime, he’s 13-0 on the mound dating back to last season and has a 0.37 earned-run average this year with 36 strikeouts in 19 innings.
Not that either care too much for all that.
“We’re playing together and playing with the motive to win games and not with the motive to boost our own stats,” Knapp said.
Nixon said facing past adversity has given his players perspective.
“They know it’s not going to be: ‘We show up to districts and we’re going to state,’ ” he said. “They understand there are teams out there that want to beat us. They’ve got to play forward and move on and take it game by game.”
In turn, the Trojans treat every game as if they’re in the state championship. Fife reached the state quarterfinals last year before losing to eventual state champion Centralia.
“We want to be there just like everyone else,” Nixon said. “We believe and feel like we have a chance, but you can’t look to that last game without looking to those games in between.”
Knapp said that unlike in club ball, high-school baseball has a far greater emphasis on team success. Fife, he said, is particularly family-oriented.
“We’ve played together for a while,” Knapp said. “You don’t look at the numbers — you know who’s playing well and who’s not, and I think that’s bigger than numbers.
But the numbers don’t lie. The Trojans are hitting .302 and have a team ERA of 2.22.
Hassell said the top of the standings is a reality that takes some getting used to.
“We’re trying to embrace it,” he said. “Not making it pressure, but making it an expectation for ourselves. We want to come out and win and see everyone’s best hitting and pitching and prove why we have those expectations.”