Gateway: Sports

For Gig Harbor baseball, players-only meeting sparked run to league title

Gig Harbor pitcher Austin Dempewolf pitching early in the first game of the Gig Harbor vs. Peninsula baseball doubleheader at Sehmel Homestead Park Tuesday.
Gig Harbor pitcher Austin Dempewolf pitching early in the first game of the Gig Harbor vs. Peninsula baseball doubleheader at Sehmel Homestead Park Tuesday. dmontesino@thenewstribune.com

After dropping its second straight game to Shelton, and losing three of its first four Class 3A South Sound Conference games to start the season, the players on the Gig Harbor High baseball team called a players-only meeting prior to the next day’s practice.

“We needed to have more team chemistry, more team communication, more grit at practice, and to practice like we play,” said senior pitcher Austin Dempewolf.

So the players all sat down in a classroom after school and took turns speaking their mind on what they could improve on individually, and what the team needed to work on collectively. There was some frustration, especially with the players who played on last year’s state championship team, but mostly an eagerness to sort things out positively and get to work.

“We were definitely frustrated, but it was also just regrouping as a team, making sure everyone was on the same page,” Dempewolf said.

And they got a talk from coach Pete Jansen that same day at practice. He wanted them to cut down on strikeouts and change their attitudes.

Since then? Gig Harbor has won nine out of its last 10 league games, and nine in a row after a 5-0 loss to Timberline on April 2. With its 1-0 win over North Thurston on April 30, Gig Harbor is the league champion.

Gig Harbor ends the regular league season in a three-way tie with Capital and Central Kitsap, all with 10-4 records. But Gig Harbor was 3-1 versus tied teams, while Capital was 2-2 and Central Kitsap was 1-3. So Gig Harbor earns the No. 1 seed and league title.

From 1-3 to league champs — not an easy feat. And as with many sports, sometimes getting hot at the right time is more important than starting fast.

“It’s really important,” Dempewolf said. “We did that last year — struggled early, got hot, kept our mojo going. We proved we can still come back this year, too. We came back in a couple games.”

DEMPEWOLF HEADED TO PORTLAND

Dempewolf has been on the varsity squad for two seasons now. But in a rare instance for a high school athlete, he actually verbally committed to the University of Portland before he had even suited up for the varsity squad as a high school athlete.

Dempewolf committed to the Pilots in January of his junior year, before the baseball season began. At that point, he had only played on junior varsity as an underclassman. But the Portland coaching staff was confident enough in what they saw to offer him a spot on the team.

“I was throwing 85 to 87 in January at their camp, which is pretty good for that time of year,” Demewolf said. “They gave me an offer right away. I really enjoyed the school, the environment.”

He signed his official letter of intent in January of this year. He’ll be joining former teammate Chad Stevens and Gig Harbor resident and Charles Wright Academy grad Henry Cheney.

“It’s nice knowing a couple people down there already,” Dempewolf said. “They’re building a program there, building up the team. … I think they’re just getting better and better. They’re focused on developing you as a player and trying to get you to the next level.”

And next spring, the Pilots will add a powerful arm to their rotation. Dempewolf’s fastball typically sits in the high 80s. Last summer, he worked with his club coaches on his slider and change-up.

“I’ve had those in the past but they haven’t been as dominant as they have this year,” Dempewolf said. “Just knowing that when I go to college, I’m going to need more than just speed. They’re good hitters at the next level. I definitely had to find my offspeed.”

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