Coming off state title, Gig Harbor baseball riding high into 2018 season

Gig Harbor senior pitcher Austin Dempewolf was part of Gig Harbor’s state championship run a season ago and will be the team’s top option on the mound this season.
Gig Harbor senior pitcher Austin Dempewolf was part of Gig Harbor’s state championship run a season ago and will be the team’s top option on the mound this season.

With three legitimate ace pitchers — and a fourth that would be the ace as a lot of schools in the state — on a Gig Harbor High baseball team that won the 2017 Class 3A state title, it was no wonder that then-freshman pitcher Owen Wild didn’t make the varsity squad.

He played on the C-team last year, adjusting to the high school level and biding his time.

Now, with Avery Jones, Patrick Fredrickson and Logan Gerling gone to graduation, Wild is getting a chance to show what he’s made of at the varsity level.

“Last year, it was pretty much impossible with all those guys,” Wild said. “I wasn’t going to pitch, even if I had made varsity. This year, a lot of those guys left, pretty much the whole staff.”

It leaves Wild, along with hard-throwing senior ace Austin Dempewolf, who contributed to last year’s state title, as the ones who will need to pick up the torch and run with it.

They have some big shoes to fill, undoubtedly.

Gig Harbor’s 2017 team, buoyed by its strong pitching and defense, won all eight of its postseason games, culminating in a 5-1 win over Southridge in the state championship game.

For a time, a state championship game appearance was in serious jeopardy, with Gig Harbor trailing 8-0 against Lakeside of Seattle at Curtis High School in the state quarterfinals. Gig Harbor rallied and won that game, 10-9.

“When we came back in that game, I knew for sure we weren’t going to lose another game,” Dempewolf said. “We were determined that much. We had a great group of guys, a bunch of studs in the field and it was made out to be the dream team.”

The momentum after that win felt unstoppable.

“It was like a really big rock, or ball, rolling down a hill,” Dempewolf said. “All the inertia in the world just couldn’t stop it.”

Longtime Gig Harbor coach Pete Jansen — who now has two state baseball titles to his name as a coach — got to keep the pitching rubber from the state championship game. He put a plaque on it in the offseason and had the whole team add their signatures.

“It was awesome,” Jansen said. “It’s an experience those guys will never forget for the rest of their lives. Plus, they got some nice rings as a memory. They’ll always be able to show someone their state championship ring.”

This year’s team doesn’t have the same pitching depth as last year’s group, but don’t bother telling Dempewolf that.

“We’re going to win the league title again,” Dempewolf said, certainly not short on confidence. “Hopefully after that, we want to win another state championship.”

Dempewolf and Wild will be an integral part of any postseason run Gig Harbor hopes to make. Gig Harbor has boasted a strong defense under Jansen in the past, and this year’s group should be no different, with much of the infield returning, including second baseman Cole Smith and third baseman Jordan Haworth.

The coaches and players expect the pitching and defense to be strong, again. The success may lie in how the bats fare.

“Putting together some clutch hitting will be key,” Dempewolf said. “We’ve been struggling with hitting a bit lately. Once we get into league, I think our hitting will come together and it’ll be another great year.”

Wild is next in line of a strong pitching tradition at Gig Harbor, which recently includes Gonzaga University pitcher Matt Henckel, UCLA star Michael Toglia, as well as last year’s group. What makes Gig Harbor pitchers so successful?

“I think it’s the mindset,” Wild said. “Every day we’re out here, it’s 100 percent focus. Every single throw we make, we’re trying to hit a spot or perform a task. That kind of focus, we just bring it out to the mound for Gig Harbor High School and it’s working.”

Wild concurred with Dempewolf, regarding the key to a postseason run.

“As long as we keep our bats going and scoring, I think we’ll make it pretty far,” he said. “Our infield is solid, defense is really good all the way around. If we keep hitting, we’ll make it.”

Gig Harbor is 2-1 so far on the season, with wins over Bellevue and Bainbridge and a loss to O’Dea. The Tides will play three more non-league games before opening league play at home against Shelton on March 27. First pitch is set for 4 p.m.