NOOKSACK - Coach Scott Gelwicks, long acknowledged as an award-winning drama instructor at Nooksack Valley, saw his second baseball team go all Hollywood for him.
"We work at drama," he said with a wink in the wake of Nooksack's 7-3 victory over Eatonville in a loser-out Class 1A Tri-District opener on Tuesday, May 13, before an enthralled Pioneer crowd.
Gelwicks knew that to call Nooksack's most memorable win in seven years "drenched in drama" would have been something of an understatement, considering that the Pioneers began the game by hanging the jersey of sidelined sophomore star Noah Rawls in the dugout to inspire them.
Then the Pioneers saw fourth-year catcher Eben Rossmiller - their only senior - hit the first home run of his career to tie the game 3-3 to open the sixth.
Regular centerfielder Tanner Myhre, who was outstanding in his first game at shortstop since middle school, and winning pitcher Curtis Handy soon followed with two-run doubles - both with two outs.
But that wasn't the end of the drama, not by a Rossmiller long shot.
Handy, who had obviously given it everything he had, gave up two hits to open the seventh and was relieved with runners on second and third by none other than junior Ryan Gelwicks.
That's right, the coach's son, an experienced reliever.
Gelwicks struck out the first man he faced with a called fastball, get the second out on a fly to Handy in right, and preserved Nooksack's first Tri-District win in seven years when he threw a wide-breaking curve for a called strike three on Eatonville's star Jesse Ballen, who had touched Handy for a two-run single in his previous at-bat.
The Pioneers (12-12) - bidding for their best season since taking third at Class 1A state seven years ago and qualifying for Tri-District the next season - will play another loser-out game on Thursday, May 15, against Overlake at Redmond's all-turf Marymoor Park.
"Hey, that's my old home town," said Handy, who has attended Nooksack for two years. Because of health issues he has overcome, this is the three-sport athlete's first baseball season with the Pioneers.
If they can beat Overlake, the Pioneers will match their victory total for the past three seasons combined.
Rossmiller's home run will provide the memory of a lifetime, since, as he put it, "Never in my life had I ever hit a home run over a fence."
And what a time he picked to pickle the second pitch he saw, a low fastball, far over the left field barrier.
"That home run really pumped all of us up," said Handy, who pitched even better than the score indicated.
"I was just trying to get a hit," said Rossmiller, who also drove in a first-inning run with a fielder's choice and, as usual, handled Handy's pitches well. "I just felt relaxed. I sure wasn't trying to hit a home run."
Scott Gelwicks felt bad that Rawls, who was being treated for an infection, had to miss the game.
"That caused a lot of lineup changes," the coach said, pointing out how much drama there really was. "We're hoping Noah can come home tonight."
Myhre, one of the county's fastest outfielders, had to play shortstop and looked as though he had been there forever. He threw out five runners without making an error, including a throw from deep short to end the sixth.
"That was a great play by Tanner and a great pickup by (first baseman) Cole Mattice," said Handy.
Following Rossmiller's home run, Gelwicks beat out an infield hit. With two outs, No. 9 hitter Trevon Beck was hit by a pitch and Myhre drove a first-pitch two-run double to deep right-center. Dalton Biehle beat out an infield hit and No. 3 hitter Handy hit a two-run double to deep left-center.
The Pioneers took a 2-0 lead in the first inning, beginning with walks to Biehle and Handy and a single by cleanup hitter Brady Wood. Biehl scored when the left fielder bobbled the ball slightly and Handy scored with a nifty slide after Rossmiller hit a grounder to third.
Handy got an unassisted double play to end the first inning from freshman second baseman Mike Jackson, who began the season on Nooksack's junior varsity. Handy retired 12 consecutive batters until he had a bit of bad luck with two outs in the fifth when Eatonville's Dylan Mann popped a "tweener" single to right-center. Handy walked the next two hitters and Bollen followed with a two-run single. A run-scoring wild pitch then gave the Cruisers a 3-2 lead before Handy retired the side with a called third-strike curve.
"I used mostly my fastball and used the curve to keep them off-balance," said Handy, who struck out five, walked three and allowed five hits.
Rossmiller's mother, Teresa, who handles the concessions, burst out of the booth with screams of joy when her son hit his homer. She received a high-five and hugs from every Nooksack mom in the park as her husband, James, couldn't take pictures down the left-field line because he was so excited.
"Now I have to feed the whole team," Teresa said, when asked if she was excited enough to make it free hot dogs for everyone.
Hot dogs haven't tasted that good at Nooksack in a long time.
NOOKSACK VALLEY 7, EATONVILLE 3
Eatonville 000 030 0-3 5 2
Nooksack Valley 200 005 x-7 8 0
WP -- Curtis Handy. LP -- Gabe Streich. Save -- Ryan Gelwicks. Highlights -- Eatonville: Jesse Ballen 1-3, 2 RBI; Connor Weinholz 1-3; Dylan Mann 2-3, 2B, R; Alex Brandt R; Jacob McCormick R; Tanner Miller 1-1. Nooksack Valley: Eben Rossmiller 1-3, HR, 2 RBI; Tanner Myhre 1-3, 2B, 2 RBI, R; Dalton Biehle 2-2, 2 R; Curtis Handy 1-2, 2B, 2 RBI, R; Brady Wood 1-4; Ryan Gelwicks 1-2, R; Trevon Beck 1-2, R.