Greg Slader
West Seattle's Ben Wexler fields a bunt in the 3A Washington State Baseball Championship game vs. Auburn Mountain View on Saturday, May 26. West Seattle lost the game by a score of 7-1. Photo by Greg Slader used with permission.

West Seattle Wildcats come up short at state fall 7-1

Playing for their first ever WIAA State 3A title the West Seattle Wildcats were in uncharted waters. How does a team navigate the emotional currents that an inexperienced group like this will encounter when faced with a first time situation? West Seattle has never made it this far in the state baseball playoffs since the school was established. To say it was exciting would be an understatement. For graduating seniors a game of a lifetime, for returning players a taste of future possibilities.

Those possibilities seemed concrete after a tight 3-1 win against Mt Si. Steady play and no mistakes. Playoff experience has no substitute. They were as ready as any team could be for the final push towards the title. Sam Hellinger got them here on steady pitching but Hellinger would not be on the rubber for this game pitching a one hitter in the Mt Si win the day before. Ben Wexler would be the Wildcats mound manager this day.

Wexler’s counterpart Shawn Guinn is in the same position. Pitching in the “big game”. Nerves are a part of every game but in a game where everything is on the line and it’s a winner tales all situation the cooler heads always prevail.

The Auburn Mountain View lions came from behind the day before to put themselves in the final swing for the title. They exploded for five runs in the 6th inning to push past Kennewick 6-4 and set themselves up to face the Wildcats for all of the marbles.

The first three innings between these two teams turned out to be a pitching duel with both hurlers dominating the diamond with crafty pitching choices. But there were cracks forming. Auburn hitters had managed two hits off of Wexler while Wildcat batsmen posted a goose egg and in the fourth with a lion runner on first Wexler’s attempt to hold the runner there threw wide of the bag, the runner advanced to second and the Lions had their first scoring opportunity of the game. The Lions Maso Cerillo then connected with a hard single that brought around the first run of the game and Auburn had a 1-0 lead. The Lions would load the bases on a second hit and a walk by Wexler, but he would pitch his way out of the inning and the game was still in control.

West Seattle would get their first hit of the day in the bottom of the fourth when leadoff hitter Morgan McCullough singled and the Wildcats had the tying run on base. Lion’s pitcher Shawn Guinn didn’t blink and retired the next three batters in order and the Wildcat threat was extinguished.

The Lions smelled blood at this point and put together a classic small ball scoring scenario. After their leadoff hitter singled Auburn put together two sacrifices and a bunt to bring in another run for a 2-0 advantage. A wild pitch by Wexler would allow the Lions to threaten again with runners on second and third but that threat was extinguished before more damage was done.

West Seattle had another scoring opportunity in the bottom of the fifth when Guinn tallied his first walk of the game with one out but he settled down and excited the inning and the treat was over.
The top of the sixth proved to be Wexler’s undoing giving up three earned runs set up by a hit batter and an error on third baseman Slater wide throw to first base. Now the Wildcats were in trouble. A two run lead is not insurmountable, but down by five runs and the inability to put together an offensive strike was troublesome and didn’t bode well for coach Vitalich’s team. Velko would likely be telling his squad to relax, play smart, and have fun. That’s how he rolls. Things can and often do change in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately for Wexler his day was done and Vitalich brought in Jamie Maples to get things under control. Maples inherited a base runner. Trying to stem the tide Maples first pitch was taken to shallow centerfield for a single. Two pitches later a heartbreaking double brought in another run. Maples got out of the inning but the Wildcats were in a deep hole down 6-0.

Guinn didn’t flinch. With a six run lead he bared down and stymied West Seattle batters to end the sixth. The Lions would tack on another run in the top of the seventh when a baulk by Maples brought in a run. Vitalich pulled Maples for Snook in hopes of stopping the defensive hemorrhaging. Snook pithed himself out of a bases loaded situation and the Wildcats had one more chance at the plate to make some magic happen.
Tim Adams got things rolling with the third hit of the day. Jimmy Mai singled and the Wildcats had runners on the corners. A comeback was looking possible. The West Seattle faithful in attendance erupted when another hit brought in Adams for the Wildcats first run of the game with no outs and two runners in scoring position. That’s when Lions pitcher Shawn Guinn left the mound after six innings of championship pitching. West Seattle loaded the bases on another single and the west side crowd got louder but a collective groan came from the crowd when Jimmy Mai, attempting to score, was thrown out at home. Lions reliever Joey Cassano, with the bases loaded and only one out, got the next two wildcats to fly out stranding three on base and ending the game for West Seattle.

This was heartbreaking for West Seattle fans. The team made history by reaching the final game. Unfortunately the outcome was not what everyone hoped for. The 7-1 loss will serve as a reminder of what things could have been. Maybe another inning would have made the difference, but that inning wouldn’t be available.

The team made an outstanding run. The best in team history. The loss is disappointing but no heads should be down. Velko Vitalich’s squad battled through adversity all year long to put themselves on the field at Gesa Stadium for the chance at the title. There is no shame in losing the last game. Every other 3A team in the state fell by the wayside and only two battle for the crown. Number two is still a good place to be. That is what will carry the returning players through the off season and through fall and winter to spring camp.
Next year.

That is the mantra of all fans and the teams they support. Next year, wait till next year.

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