“In case you haven’t noticed, and judging by the attendance you haven’t, the Indians have managed to win a few here and there, and are threatening to climb out of the cellar.”
It’s hard to believe Colville is an underdog in something when they have a state title this year in both football and wrestling. But when baseball season rolled around this Spring, the Indians were looking at two years of slow starts and a 2018 record of 10-13 along with a 2017 mark of 9-11.
It’s easy to make some comparisons with the Cleveland Indians of the movie “Major League” about a rag-tag bunch winning the pennant despite their own owner trying to stop them. Perhaps hosting a postseason game wasn’t the expectation for the north Stevens County team in the baseball-loving NEA League. Baseball, however, is one of those games where predicting what happens is about as useful as predicting the weather.
Colville didn’t just start the season well, they rocket-launched into the year with a 12-game winning streak.
“It’s definitely different than the past two years when we had 1-7 starts,” Colville coach Blake Sjordal said. “The season started off discouraging with really terrible weather, and forget playing a game, it was tough being able to practice and get kids out on a baseball field before our first game.”
But it didn’t seem to bother Colville, which ran up their league record to 8-0. It seems the success that has been building both in the football and wrestling programs grew into the baseball program. Sjordal said he could see a shift in summer ball when the Indians Legion squad advanced to the district tournament. It’s the spring training of high school baseball, you might say, just with football and basketball season in between.
“When I took over there was no summer baseball,” Sjordal said. “It can be tough because it’s a lot of money to play. Now we have two teams.”
Nathan Burkey and Jim Lindquist have helped with Legion ball, and Colville is starting to see the results on the field. Another issue for the Indians was the lack of facilities. Like Chewelah, a late spring means baseball indoors and baseball indoors is much different than actual baseball.
“We have a couple of cages and we try to utilize high school gyms with other school programs, but its a tough situation” Sjordal said.
“Yup, we’ve got uniforms and everything, it’s really great!”
It had been two years since Sjordal took over the baseball program and had an injured starting pitcher along with a whole lot of questions, causing him to take a long, hard look at his roster. Now he has eight pitchers and they are dealing.
“The first and foremost thing has been the pitching this year,” Sjordal said. This year the Indians have had five shutouts and another two games where they allowed just a run.
Tayeb Wilson is a converted position player who has taken his position on the mount and ran with it, Justin Berk has been throwing straight gas against NEA League batters, MSU-bound John Knight decided to play baseball this year after a hiatus and seemingly hasn’t missed a beat in the sport, Riley Bunnell has been hitting the zone and Jake Lindquist is on the roster as the always interesting short stop and pitcher combo.
“Our pitchers have been so effective, 63 strikeouts in league, we haven’t seen a lot of balls in play,” Sjordal said.
“Cerrano’s looking for some extra power for tonight. He’s looking to sacrifice a live chicken.”
The second biggest difference is the hitting. From hitting .194 as a team in 2017, the Indians are now hitting .424 in league and have 20 out of 21 stolen bases in league play. The Indians have the bat of Willie Mays and the speed of Willie Mays Hayes, meaning they can drive in runs or score them by good ol’ baserunning.
They have scored double-digit runs eleven times this year, impressive when you consider they’ve played 14 games. Along with their offensive numbers, Colville’s numbers in general have gone up. Sjordal started with 23 kids two years ago, now there is 34. He credits that with the growth of the little league program and the junior high program beginning to feed kids up to the high school level.
“The success comes from kids putting in the time and effort,” he said. “They had a 100-percent buy-in rate during the off season and there is definitely a correlation.”
“The American Express card: Don’t steal home without it.”
Sjordal expects big challenges from Freeman and Deer Park, two teams that have delivered the Indians close losses this season. Deer Park has some mean pitching and Freeman has a storied program.
Colville at 14-2 is co-champs with Freeman this year and gets to host a home playoff game Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Medical lake (No. 4 seed) and Riverside (No. 5 seed) play at 12 for the right to play Colville in the district quarterfinals. Sjordal says that his team isn’t satisfied with just having a good season, they want to make some noise in the postseason as well.