BASEBALL: Decatur's improbable run hits a speed bump with 11-5 loss to Mountain View, still one win from state
By CASEY OLSON
Federal Way Mirror Sports editor
May 10, 2012 · Updated 12:21 PM
The Decatur Gators baseball team had won just three games entering the postseason. And all three came against the lowly Lakes Lancers.
But the 3-16 regular-season record hasn't stopped the Gators from making an improbable playoff run to within one win of qualifying for the 16-team Class 3A State Tournament.
After finishing fifth in the six-team SPSL 3A Division, Decatur has doubled its win total in the last three games, including a 5-2 victory over Capital Tuesday at Tacoma's Heidelberg Park in the first round of the West Central/Southwest District Tournament.
"It's been fun so far," said first-year Decatur head coach Korey Sites.
The ride hit a speed bump Wednesday with an 11-5 loss to Mountain View Thunder in the quarterfinals of the district tournament at Propstra Field in Vancouver.
Now, the Gators (6-17) face a loser-out, winner-to-state contest against the SPSL 3A-champion Peninsula Seahawks at 1 p.m. at Heidelberg Park in Tacoma on Saturday, May 12. The Seahawks swept Decatur all three times during the SPSL 3A year.
But this is a different Gator team than its three-win regular season.
"The biggest change from early in the season is our belief in each other and our ability to succeed as a team," said Sites. "We really played as individuals for the majority of the season but, by the end, the players have come to realize that it takes more than one person to get the job done right and that as a unified team we can have a ton of success."
The magical run looked like it was going to continue against Mountain View, the champions of the Greater St. Helen's League and fifth-ranked team in the state.
Decatur sent 10 batters to the plate in the top of the first inning and took a quick 5-0 lead. The Gators finished the inning with five of their eight hits on the day.
But after that it was all Mountain View. The Thunder scored three runs in the second, four in third, one in the fourth and three in the fifth.
Offensively, Decatur got a pair of RBIs from Mitchell Garza and single RBIs from Chris Carns and Jim Sullivan.
Tuesday's district win over Capital came on the heels of a pair of wins over Kennedy Catholic and Auburn Mountainview at the SPSL/Seamount League Tournament last weekend.
Against Capital (8-13), the Gators got a huge game on the mound from sophomore Janson Junk, who threw a complete-game, seven-hitter.
"Janson Junk pitched fantastic by keeping them off-balance all night," Sites said. "They only squared up a couple of balls against him and they went for singles. Behind him we played quality defense, making every routine play despite the gravity of the situation."
Offensively, Decatur was led by Brett Johnson, who broke the game open in the fifth inning with a two-out triple. The hit scored Garza and Mitchell Ciotta to give Decatur a commanding 4-0 lead. The Gators tallied single runs in the first and fourth innings.
Capital's only runs came in the top of the sixth when the Cougars started the inning with three-straight hits of Junk. But Junk got out of the inning by giving up only the two runs.
"It was a great game to be a part of," Sites said. "I have confidence we'll give it our best shot the next couple games."
Decatur earned the district berth with wins over Kennedy Thursday, 9-4, and Auburn Mountainview, 10-6, Friday in a pair of loser-out contests.
"We've played better than our record indicates, but have yet to put things together consistently until (the) weekend," said Sites. "My guys just, flat out, wanted to win. The reality that either game could have been our last game really brought out the best in every player."
The win over Kennedy (9-10) was somewhat of a surprise, but the victory over Auburn Mountainview was a shocker. The Lions finished 12-3 in the SPSL 3A and beat Decatur three times in league play by a combined score of 16-4.
But the Gators didn't bat an eye Friday night on the road. Decatur jumped out to a 4-0 lead with two runs in each of the first and second innings, before Auburn Mountainview battled back to take a 6-5 lead heading into the sixth.
But the Gators tallied the final five runs of the game to win the game and earn the district berth.
"Auburn Mountainview is a really good team, so we had to compete on every pitch to give ourselves a chance," Sites said. "The biggest change was plate discipline. We didn't chase many pitches, which allowed us to work the pitcher and end up in more hitter-friendly counts or walk."
Taylor Havilcek picked up the victory on the mound in relief of Carns. Havilcek didn't allow a run in two innings of work and gave up two hits.
Johnson led the way for the more-patient Decatur offense, going 2 for 3 with a triple and three RBIs. Havilcek also helped himself at the plate, finishing 1 for 1 with a pair of RBIs. Derek Bontempo also knocked in a pair of runs.
The Gators' run started with the win over Kennedy (9-10) Thursday afternoon in Burien. Decatur jumped all over the Lancers with six runs in the third inning and were never really threatened.
The Gators' duo of Junk and Chris Grimstad combined to hold Kennedy to just three hits on the day. Junk threw the first 4 1/3 innings, giving up just two earned runs and striking out seven. Grimstad threw 2 2/3 innings of hitless relief, striking out five.
Offensively, Decatur was led by the middle of its order. Kyle Robbins ended up 2 for 4 with three RBIs and Johnson was 2 for 5 with two runs, two RBIs and a triple. The Gators' leadoff hitter, Brandon Zimmerman, finished 2 for 5 with a run, two RBIs, a double and a pair of stolen bases. Carns was 3 for 4 with a run and RBI and Ciotta was 1 for 3 with three runs.
Contact Federal Way Mirror Sports editor Casey Olson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (253) 925-5565 ext. 5056.