The road to the 2018 South Central Athletic Conference East Division baseball championship was paved remarkably by the College Place High School Hawks.
Remarkably when one remembers it was achieved in the program’s second year of varsity competition.
“I thought we had a chance to be solid,” College Place coach Jason Grove said. “We had two seniors who were our best players overall and good supporting underclassmen. We had a good core group.”
The Hawks were led by seniors Kobe Morris (pitcher/third baseman) and Silas Shumate (pitcher/outfield). Morris was tabbed as the SCAC East co-Player of the Year at season’s end.
Underclassmen included juniors Matt McKenzie (starting catcher/pitcher), Kyren Morris (shortstop), and Kyler Tiner (starting center fielder/pitcher).
Among the youngest members of the ball club were sophomore Jackson Shumate and freshman Justin McKenzie.
“We did have good depth,” Grove said of his pitching staff. “We would go with Silas in game one and Kobe in game two. We would bring in Kyler or Matt to finish off games.
“Justin threw a little bit and played a little third base,” Grove said. “That was one of our keys — the versatility of most of our guys. We could plug Matt in the infield or outfield as needed. He was a jack of all traits. We were confident he would get the job done.”
College Place started the season strong. It did not lose a game until the midway point of the year against River View.
“Anybody can beat anyone,” Grove said of the SCAC East. “There are some teams that are pretty solid every year. We usually had our toughest matchups toward the end of the year.
“Late in the season, it (a league title) was becoming more believable,” Grove said. “ We took it one game at a time and built off of those games.”
A late-season sweep of Royal City put the Hawks in position to win the East. The title would be decided when College Place traveled to Connell for a league-ending doubleheader. One victory over the Eagles would mean a division crown for the Hawks.
“We lost the first game and won the second game,” Grove said. “I think they were both one-run games. In the second game, Kobe went six innings and Matt closed it out.
“It was pretty exciting,” Grove said. “There was a lot of hugging going on, slaps on the back. The guys earned it and deserved it.
“It spoke a lot about our character,” Grove said. “We’ve been in those situations before. It spoke to their resilience. They showed an ability to focus and concentrate.”
College Place beat Warden and Kiona-Benton, but lost to Naches in the district playoffs.
“It felt good to beat (Warden and Kiona-Benton) because they are solid programs,” Grove said. “Naches played well and we didn’t gets hits when we needed to.”
The Hawks’ season ended at regionals in Spokane. They downed Okanogan, but lost to eventual state champion Freeman in the regional final.
“Silas pitched and did a great job,” Grove said of the regional semifinal. “We were up 6-2 against Freeman in the sixth inning, but weren’t able to hold on. We lost in walk-off fashion.
“It was a good season for us overall,” he said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted it to. That’s the way it goes.”
Be that as it may, there is little doubt that the 2018 season will live on in Hawks’ Nation.
“Baseball is a tough game to play,” Grove said. “Every win you can get and focus on is great. The players enjoyed the season and being together. They are proud of that and should be.”