MOUNT VERNON - The Ferndale baseball team did something earlier this month that the program had not previously done - win a Class 3A Northwest District title. And there was no easy route to accomplishing it, as they had to beat Shorewood - considered one of the top teams in the state - in the tournament semifinals to get there.
The key to the Golden Eagles' success was simple, at least in theory - play error free baseball and get timely hitting, and they did both for three straight games.
Unfortunately, Ferndale was unable to get either of those in the first round of the 3A State Tournament.
The Golden Eagles committed four errors, while West Seattle's Sam Hellinger threw a two-hit shutout to oust them from the playoffs and end their season with a 6-0 loss on Saturday, May 18, in the Mount Vernon Regional at Skagit Valley Dream Field.
"There's no excuses for the errors," Ferndale outfielder Kyler Brudwick said. "We should make those (plays) every day."
Two of the errors came on routine grounders that beat Ferndale infielders' five-hole.
Another was a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt that allowed the first run of the game to score.
"We weren't very sharp defensively, especially early on," Ferndale coach Donny Hennigs said. "It happens. You got to this level and you've got some younger guys that haven't been to this stage. You try to battle through it. Typically, we're a pretty loose team, but I thought today early on we probably played a little tight."
The final error of the day was quite literally the most painful for the Golden Eagles (16-8).
West Seattle's Spencer Elder had just picked up a one-out single in the top of the fifth, when Hellinger sent a rocket toward the left-center field gap. Ferndale center fielder Brady Bauthues and Brudwick in left field both had a bead on the ball and were running top speed to get there.
"No one really called it off," Brudwick said. "It was just in between. I thought I had it, and then - boom."
The two collided head-to-head.
Both fell to the ground, and the ball rolled out of Brudwick's glove.
Brudwick, who had fresh scratches on his left ear from the collision after the game, got up and tried to get the ball back infield, but was unable to and he tried to regain his breath and senses. By the time the Golden Eagles were able to corral the ball, Elder had scored from first and Hellinger ended up at third.
While Brudwick was able to get up, Bauthues lay motionless in the outfield at Dream Field.
Hennigs and the Ferndale training staff sprinted to him, and shortly after they arrived he started to move his arms. After a 15-minute delay he was taken from the field by ambulance.
"It was a head-on collision," Hennigs said. "I think he'll be fine. He was coherent and all that. It was strictly precautionary to get him in, get him looked at. He ran into probably one of our bigger, stronger guys. It was a tough one for him."
Hellinger took care of making it rough on the rest of the Golden Eagles when they were on offense.
The senior right-hander, who reportedly is considering NCAA Division I programs at Long Beach State, Oregon and Portland, was masterful in his use of the outside corner of the strike zone throughout the game.
"He didn't really throw his curve all that much, but he really hit the outside spots, and the ump was calling it," Brudwick said. "He just stayed right there and we had a lot of strike three lookings."
Of Hellinger's 10 strikeouts, seven of them came with the bat staying on a Ferndale batter's shoulder.
Brudwick was the only Golden Eagle to solve Hellinger, as he singled in the fifth and doubled with two outs in the seventh. The only other Golden Eagles to get on base were Bauthues, who drew a second-inning walk, and Zack Cutsforth, who reached on a fifth-inning error.
"He's a proven guy," Hennigs said of Hellinger. "We knew that coming in. He's pitched varsity level for four years and pitched in some big games for them. He did a great job to keep expanding the strike zone and hitting his spots and making it real tough to put a good swing on it. ... We knew he wasn't going to walk a bunch of guys, so we had to attack and get on him early. He was just doing a good job of pitching ahead. We couldn't get anything going on him."
West Seattle, on the other hand constantly seemed to have something going.
Ferndale starter Marshall Weston wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the first, but West Seattle used a two-base error to push Morgan McCullough across for the first run of the game in the third.
After Elder scored on the Bauthues-Brudwick collision play in the fifth, Hellinger followed him home on a perfectly executed squeeze bunt by Tim Adams.
Back-to-back one-out walks in the seventh set the table for Hellinger to drive in a run with a double, before Adams plated another with a sacrifice fly. Fittingly, it was Hellinger who scored the final run, as he raced home on a wild pitch.
Though its season came to a close Saturday, the good news for Ferndale is it listed only four seniors on its state roster - Weston, Austyn Sprague, Cutsforth and Anthony Pace, meaning the Golden Eagles return a good portion of the roster that won the district title in Hennigs' first year at the helm.
"We battled through some stuff that I haven't seen before with kids in and out all year," Hennigs said. "It was a real gritty team that came to play every day with everything they had. That's what I told them - 'You feel pretty bad because the season is over, but those seniors and this group will know they were the first to win a district championship.' You can't change that, and that will be with them for a while."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
WEST SEATTLE 6, FERNDALE 0
West Seattle 001 020 3 - 6 5 1
Ferndale 000 000 0 - 0 2 4
WP: Sam Hellinger. LP: Marshall Weston. Highlights: Ferndale: Kyler Brudwick 2-3, 2B.
The Bellingham Regional of the Class 2A State Tournament was postponed because rain Friday evening and Saturday morning, May 17-18. All three games for the regional have been rescheduled for Sunday, May 19, at Joe Martin Field.
? Lynden vs. Lindbergh, 10 a.m.
? White River vs. Archbishop Murphy, 1 p.m.
? Regional final, 4 p.m.
NOTE: Gamecasts for all Lynden games will be available at bellinghamherald.com/sports
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.