Thomas Jefferson baseball heading in right direction

A win under the lights at Cheney Stadium gives TJ four wins in a row for first time since 2016.

In life and sports, there may be spells where success is hard to come by. And for the first half of the 2024 baseball season, Thomas Jefferson High School’s baseball team couldn’t find a positive result.

It wasn’t all due in part because of the play on the field for the Raiders. Head Coach Joe Townsend wanted his squad to struggle early on against good teams, so they would be prepared for the gauntlet of the 3A NPSL league schedule.

“I set up some non-leagues that I knew were gonna be tough … I wanted to put them in situations that I knew were going to challenge them with the difficulty of the opponent,” Townsend said.

The Raiders started this season dropping their first five games, and that is excluding the two jamboree games, which the Raiders lost to Fife and Eatonville in early March.

“They needed to understand the toughness and the hard part, how to fight through that and play together,” said Townsend.

But since an 8-5 loss to Auburn on March 26, the Raiders have gone on a four-game win streak, including a win over Silas at Cheney Stadium, home of the Tacoma Rainiers.

That turnaround came after the three-run loss to the Trojans. It sparked a belief that the Raiders hadn’t had all season, a spark that they could make a run.

“When they realized they could win, it clicked in … First game they stumbled against Auburn, they could have won that game. Game two they came out with a different mindset, a different aggression, and we could see it,” Townsend said.

This Townsend-led team is entering its competitive window. Last year, they were bottom heavy with underclassmen in a sport that doesn’t have many young role players. Now the Raiders have to put that experience to use.

Players like Central Washington University commit Kort Baker and Kyler Herwick needed to take that step, and so far on this hot streak, they have. They have taken players like freshman Luis Sanchez under their wing and helped them grow into quality ballplayers.

“I can’t magnify how important it is for them to become ‘team guys’… As coaches we sit back and see the juniors and seniors go up to the freshmen and help them move along to get better,” said Townsend.

Cheney Stadium lights shine on Raiders

Aside from schools up north in the Everett area, high school teams don’t venture their way into professional stadiums that often.

But down south at Cheney Stadium, and even T-Mobile Park, offer fundraising opportunities to schools, and in turn, they get to play where the likes of J.P. Crawford and Julio Rodriguez reside for 81 games per year.

“It’s been very fun taking it all in. It was all I wanted (to play),” Luis Sanchez said.

The Raiders opted to pay at Cheney as a reward for the hard work. Townsend rosters every player in his program and lets them stay in the dugout for the entire game, even if they don’t get a spot on the field.

“It’s not all about the competition and trying to win. It is about the camaraderie and being blessed to play in a place where some great athletes have played,” Townsend said.

For the contest, Thomas Jefferson took on Silas High School, which has been having a solid season. It was going to take the best out of the Raiders to find a way to beat Silas, and they put together arguably their best game of the season on April 5.

Townsend and the Raiders needed just one run to beat the Rams, but it was a tough run to come by.

Silas threw Jesse Bell to start, and he was dominant, commanding an 82-83 mph fastball and keeping the Raider hitters off balance through three innings of work. But Thomas Jefferson also threw the ball incredibly well.

“You want guys to be selfless, not selfish, and guys were totally selfless tonight,” Townsend said

Kyler Herwick, Kingston Edwards and Luis Sanchez held Silas off the scoreboard for their third straight shutout this season. The Raiders join Mount Rainier and Kennedy Catholic as the only NPSL schools to record three shutouts in a row this season. No team has done it four times so far. “I am so proud of these guys,” Townsend said.

It may have taken a little luck, but the Raiders also held Silas to just two hits all game. Thanks to some smart defensive plays, Thomas Jefferson never allowed a Ram to touch third base. Kort Baker on his own made some stellar defensive plays.

“He’s a team captain and has played a lot of baseball. That’s why we have him on the field (to make those plays),” Sanchez said.

The solo run of the ball game came from the bottom of the order, with Logan Langdon breaking up the no-hitter in the fifth inning and Sanchez the freshman driving him in.

Sanchez also dealt on the mound, recording the win and pitching the final two innings of the game. For a senior, playing at Cheney Stadium can create loads of pressure. Even in a close game, but for a freshman to show that sort of composure is impressive.

“I was a excited and a little nervous. It was a big game and we wanted to win it,” Sanchez said.

Road ahead

Playing in a game at Cheney Stadium can be the highlight of a team’s season. But the Raiders want to remember more than just a 1-0 win for their season.

This Raider team might be playing with some momentum they didn’t know they had two weeks ago.

“The kids just got to believe. The fact that they won the last three allows them some belief that they can win games like these … They’re tasting success and thinking we might figure this out,” Townsend said.

Over the next two weeks, the Raiders are heading into a gauntlet. The Raiders take on Auburn Riverside and Kentlake, who seem to be front-runners for the league.

But the Raiders are playing their brand of baseball right now and that brand can help them find ways to win.

“I like what we have. I am going to take my guys in this 3A NPSL rat race to the end,” Townsend said.

Andre Redmond loads and waits for a pitch against Silas. Ben Ray / The Mirror

Andre Redmond loads and waits for a pitch against Silas. Ben Ray / The Mirror

Thomas Jefferson shortstop/third baseman Kort Baker winces and smiles after he gets hit by a pitch. Ben Ray / The Mirror

Thomas Jefferson shortstop/third baseman Kort Baker winces and smiles after he gets hit by a pitch. Ben Ray / The Mirror

Starting pitcher Kyler Herwick delivers a pitch in the first inning at Cheney Stadium. Ben Ray / The Mirror

Starting pitcher Kyler Herwick delivers a pitch in the first inning at Cheney Stadium. Ben Ray / The Mirror