Federal Way’s Joshua Mears discusses Eagles’ season
When Federal Way High School shortstop Bradham Ponce rolls out of bed in the morning and turns on his cell phone, the first thing he sees is a photo of the scoreboard from the Eagles’ semifinal game in the Class 4A state tournament last spring.
Richland 11, Federal Way 0.
“It gets me a little mad every morning,” Ponce said. “We don’t want that happening again, at all. They handed it to us. It shows me what we’re working for, trying to get back there and win state.”
The day after that loss to Richland — the team that went on to win the state championship last spring — everyone on the Federal Way team set their lock screen with that same photo.
“It’s a constant reminder to work hard every day,” said junior pitcher Tyler Hoeft, a University of Washington commit.
Federal Way (13-3 overall, 10-1 4A NPSL Olympic) currently sits atop the league standings, and has the talent, not to mention the motivation, to make another deep run into the state tournament.
Right-fielder Joshua Mears, a Purdue signee, is batting .512 for the Eagles with four doubles, a triple, seven home runs and 17 RBI. Ponce, a Central Arizona commit, is hitting .362 with four doubles, a triple, three home runs and 10 RBI. Hoeft has a 4-2 record with 29 strikeouts and a 4.04 ERA, while pitcher Carter Berry has been lights out for the Eagles in 32 1/3 innings, posting a 3-0 record with three saves, 44 strikeouts and a 0.53 ERA.
“We’re a really tight-knit group,” Mears said. “We do a lot of things together and I think that’s why we play really well on the field.”
After taking third at state a year ago, Federal Way’s players might have thought the regular season would be a cakewalk. But an 11-1 loss to Eastside Catholic, a 5-0 loss to Bellevue and a 9-1 loss to Auburn Mountainview — all in the first month of the season, gave the Eagles a wakeup call.
“We came into this year just thinking we’re going to win state because we’re talented,” Hoeft said. “But nobody is going to roll over for us just because we’re Federal Way.”
Fourth-year coach Arlo Evasick said those losses at the beginning of the season served as a reminder that his team needed to work harder if it wanted to acheive its goals.
“I think maybe it’s some guys who realize they aren’t quite as good as they thought they were,” Evasick said. “Being a little humbled instead of resting on the laurels of what they’ve done the last three years as a program. … Whatever you’ve built the last couple years, it’s kind of gone. I think they’re starting to figure out who they are now.”
While Federal Way hasn’t lost since March 26, the players point to an 19-2 win over Auburn on April 8 as the true turning point of the season. Federal Way was actually down 2-0 in the first inning of that game.
“We just exploded on the offensive side,” Ponce said. “We’re a pretty complete team. We can all hit pretty well.”
The lopsided score was nice, but Evasick’s proudest moment of that win was when Federal Way received a bench warning after the players pounced out of the dugout to celebrate a play during a live ball.
“That was the most excited I’ve been all year,” Evasick said. “If you get guys that are excited, engaged and focused, they’re going to be successful, because they’re really good baseball players. But there’s something to be said about a desire to win — or maybe more so, a desire not to lose.”
Mears said something shifted in that win against Auburn.
“I feel like we came together and just knew we had to start hitting,” he said. “The energy level went up. We kind of used to show up and just think, ‘OK. we’re going to win today.’ But that’s not really how it is. You have to make that happen.”
Evasick also credits freshman catcher Ayden Vega with contributing to the team’s turnaround. Since Evasick gave him the start in a 1-0 win against Auburn Mountainview on March 28, the Eagles have yet to lose.
Federal Way seems to be hitting its stride at the right time, which could spell trouble for opponents in the postseason. Mostly, the Eagles are just trying to keep things simple.
“We just have to continue what we’re doing now,” Ponce said. “We’re all playing as one, doing our job. If we continue doing those things, we’ll give it a good ride.”