Not necessarily projected to be a top finisher in the Class 4A Narrows League this season, the Timberline High School baseball team has made its case as the league’s dark horse.
The Blazers have won five straight, and clinched the league’s No. 2 seed into the 4A West Central District tournament with a 1-0 win over defending state champion South Kitsap at home.
And the difference between No. 2 and No. 3 is pretty big. As the second seed, Timberline will enter the double-elimination portion of the bracket. It can also secure a state tournament berth with a first-round win — instead of needing three wins to advance.
“You get that extra game just in case you don’t play well,” Timberline coach Mark Rubadue said. “Instead of having to win three, you win one and you’re in. It’s definitely a big deal.”
Friday, the Blazers needed only one run to lock up second place for the second straight season.
Austin Whalen tossed seven scoreless frames for Timberline, allowing six hits on 99 pitches and striking out five. Whalen improved to 5-2 this season — he has never allowed more than two runs in a start.
Whalen and Lucas Reid, the pitching staff’s No. 2, have combined for 10 wins this season. They have tossed three shutouts apiece (in games where they have pitched five or more innings).
“Being a pitcher on this team with that defense, you know going out you’re going to give up one or none as long as you do your job and throw strikes,” Reid said. “It’s really easy to go out there and have confidence every single play.”
The Blazers (12-6, 8-3 4A Narrows) have allowed an average of 0.7 runs per game against league opponents this season (1.8 overall).
“We’re just a scrappy team,” Rubadue said. “When you look out there, you don’t see this glaring, ‘Wow, who’s that guy?’ We’re a scrappy group. We don’t score a bunch of runs, but we also don’t give up many runs.”
Lack of run support against South Kitsap didn’t faze Whalen. He coolly worked out of jams in the fifth and seventh innings — each time by getting Austin Hackman to ground out — to hold the Wolves scoreless.
At one point, Timberline retired 12 consecutive batters. South Kitsap stranded eight on base.
“I trust my defense 100 percent,” Whalen said. “They work hard for me. I just try to throw strikes and they get it done. They do all the work.”
But it was Whalen who helped himself out at the plate. He launched a high 3-2 fastball into center for an RBI double in the third. Reid scored the game’s only run on the play. He led off the inning with a double before advancing to second on a fielder’s choice, and then to third on a balk.
“It’s about taking advantage of opportunities,” Reid said. “A little bloop single? I’ll take it any day. It’s a hit. Get to second on a ground ball. A balk. And then score.
“That’s how we’re going to win ballgames all year. And with our pitching and defense, we can do it.”
Timberline rounds out the regular season at South Kitsap at 4 p.m. Friday. A win would give the Blazers their third season sweep in a row — they swept Olympia and Stadium during the last two weeks.
From there, they’re scheduled to play the No. 3 seed from the South Puget Sound League in the first round of the district playoffs at 4 p.m. on May 10 at Foss.
“We could literally lose to anybody, but we’re scrappy enough and good enough that we can beat anybody, too,” Rubadue said. “We’re just kind of one of those teams. When a team comes in here they definitely know they have to play. If not, we’ll definitely take it.”