Austin Stump would be the ace for a lot of high school pitching staffs.
So he wasn’t so thrilled at first when Puyallup High School baseball coach Marc Wiese wanted to use him as a closer.
“When I was first filling this role, I was like ‘Gosh dang it,’ ” Stump said.
“Everyone wants to be a starter, but being the hero at the end is pretty good, too.”
And he was certainly a star for Puyallup on Thursday. Stump retired the final five batters consecutively and made a diving toss to catcher Ryan Teague at the plate — after fielding a bunt toward third base — to save what would have been the game-tying run in the top of the sixth inning.
That was the spark the Vikings needed to beat Kentwood, 1-0, at Kent Memorial Park to clinch the 4A South Puget Sound League title.
That means Puyallup has the No. 1 seed from the SPSL into the 4A West Central District tournament, where next Tuesday it will play a winner-to-state game against the loser of Friday’s game between Thomas Jefferson and Tahoma.
“Austin Stump deserves to start,” Wiese said. “He wants to start. But we also need a guy who is going to be comfortable with the ball in his hand at the end of the game.”
It’s a good problem for Wiese. He could turn to the right-handed Stump, who was 5-0 with a 0.76 earned run average last year, or his hard-throwing left-handers —University of Washington signee Christopher Micheles or Washington State signee Michael Newstrom.
Micheles started the game, striking out eight batters in 5 1/3 innings.
Wiese said he’s still mastering who to pitch when.
“It’s so close — all three of those guys,” Wiese said. “It’s just a matter of … we like (Stump) because he’s pitched playoff games. As has Micheles. We love Newstrom because of his stuff. But we just think, right now … shoot, Newstrom could still end up closing.” Wiese laughed.
“We’re taking this one game at a time.”
Micheles ran into trouble in the sixth inning. Kentwood catcher Shane McGuire doubled to the gap in right-center field two pitches after being brushed back by an inside fastball. McGuire might have reached third had he not tripped rounding second.
He advanced to third base on a wild pitch and Micheles walked Ben Wadowski to signal the end of his night after 99 pitches.
“I think I battled more than I’ve battled this season,” Micheles said. “Things weren’t really going my way mechanically. I was just trying to find it.”
Kentwood’s next batter, Daniel Tanaka, bunted toward third base. The ball was spinning away and McGuire was charging home, so the tall, lanky Stump was forced to dive as he threw home, which just got McGuire for the second out of the inning.
“That’s the play of the game,” Wiese said.
“I get a lot of odd looks because I’m a tall, goofy guy,” Stump said. “But, yeah, that kind of showed some people up.”
Kentwood’s Wadowski, a Saint Martin’s signee, was equally impressive on the mound. He allowed two hits and struck out six in a complete game performance.
Puyallup’s run came in the bottom of the second. Kenton Robillard’s sacrifice bunt got Ryan Peterson to third base, and Zack Larson followed with an RBI groundout to second.
That was all the scoring there would be.
“It was good pitching,” Kentwood coach Mark Zender said. “You saw two kids who are signed to go to college to pitch at the next level (Micheles and Wadowski). I told our kids, ‘This is big-boy baseball. This is no longer high school baseball.’ ”
Kentwood will play Federal Way at 7 p.m. Friday at Kent Memorial Park for either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed to Tuesday’s district tournament.
Emerald Ridge 7, Tahoma 4: DeShawn Johnson was 3 for 3 with a double, four runs scored and an RBI as the Jaguars rallied from a 4-0 deficit to clinch the No. 4 seed from the 4A SPSL to the district tournament.
Emerald Ridge will play the winner of Friday’s game between Kentwood and Federal Way in a winner-to-state game at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Heritage Recreation Center in Puyallup.
Tahoma scored four runs in the top of the first inning, but ER pitcher Chad Gideon shut out the Bears from there. Andrew Curran got the final two outs after entering with the bases loaded in the top of the seventh.
Tahoma will play Thomas Jefferson at 4 p.m. Friday at Kent Memorial Park for either the fifth or sixth seed from the 4A SPSL to the district tournament.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677