April 8, 2013 at 3:06 AM
Extra innings: Ballard attempting to make history, Shorewood’s Riley O’Brien turns confidence into no-hitters
Shorewood: No-hitters and perfection
There were times last year when Shorewood pitcher Riley O’Brien would give up a walk and then couldn’t get out of his own head. He would start over thinking and second guessing himself, and he would struggle to get out of those situations.
“I would pitch scared,” O’Brien said.
And yet, in a story that could serve as a case study for the development of high-school athletes, O’Brien pulled off a 180-degree turn this year, his senior season. How about this for results: In five starts – and six total appearances – O’Brien is 4-0. Better: He has yet to allow an earned run in 19 1/3 innings pitched.
Still need a little convincing? OK, here it is: O’Brien has thrown two five-inning no-hitters this season. The key to all that success is the same thing that hampered him during his junior campaign: confidence.
“I knew he had it in him, but it was just a little patience and a little guidance,” Shorewood coach Wyatt Tonkin said. “At some points last year, I think that we were more confident in him than he was in himself. Once he got some confidence, he’s just taken off like a rocket.”
The frustrating part is O’Brien knew it too. The ability was there for O’Brien, who is 6-foot-3 and the grandson and great nephew of the famed Seattle University O’Brien twins, Ed and John.
“I knew I had the physical properties, but last year was just all mental,” Riley said. “I really just thought about it a lot, read some books on the mental and that’s really been the key to my success.”
O’Brien is part of a Shorewood team that remains (by my check at least) the only undefeated team in the Seattle area. And the Thunderbirds are getting contributions from just about everywhere right now.
Shorewood’s backbone is the pitching staff.
Sam Boone, a 6-8 junior, carries a 0.61 ERA through four starts and five appearances. He hasn’t allowed a run in his last 15 innings. The third member of the starting rotation is Ian Oxnevad, a sophomore who Tonkin said is maturing and developing each time he takes the mound. He didn’t allow an earned run in his first 11 innings this season before giving up four runs (three earned) against Glacier Peak on Wednesday.
“Our three starters have just been more than you can ask,” Tonkin said. “Our philosophy is throw strikes, and they’ve been doing that.”
But here’s the the thing about Shorewood: As good as the pitching has been, the offense has been just as good.
The T-Birds are averaging nine runs per game. Six players with a minimum of 24 at bats are hitting at least .400, led by Cameron Sterne (.528, 13 RBI), Steffen Torgersen (.548, 12 RBI) and Kory Longaker (.469, 13 RBI). And all that production gives the pitching staff more wiggle room.
“It’s a big weight off our shoulders,” O’Brien.
The T-Birds have been goals this season, even if they are keeping a series-by-series approach to this season: They want to win a state championship and think they have the pieces to make that happen.
“I wouldn’t count us out,” Tonkin said. “I would say that’s a realistic goal or aspiration. I imagine our pitchers are going to get a little stronger as they go along, and our hitters have been hitting the ball so well.”
Ballard attempting to make school history
Doug Montgomery graduated from Ballard in 2003, which is an important year for the school athletically. That’s the year Ballard joined KingCo 4A.
“It was a whole new world,” Montgomery said.
Now Montgomery is trying to take the Ballard baseball team deeper into that world than the program has been in, well, forever. Montgomery, who is in his first year as head coach after serving as the pitching coach last season, believes his team is good enough to not only make the state tournament but also win it.
“That discussion has definitely been passed around the offseason, and it’s kind of the bar that we hold them to,” Montgomery said. “That’s the carrot out there on the stick.”
Ballard took a small (but maybe important) step forward on Saturday, when the Beavers handed Kentwood, the undefeated defending state champions, its first loss of the season, 3-2. True, it wasn’t a league game and therefore doesn’t carry the same weight, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have an impact.
“It was a great confidence booster,” Montgomery said. “We were able to tell them, ‘Look, you just beat the best. Who else is going to stand in your way?’
“That Kentwood team is the cream of the crop right now, and the fact we beat them shows our kids how good they can be. It came at the halfway point of our season, and it might be the thing that propels us and gets us rolling.”
Ballard is 9-3 overall and 5-2 in bunched up KingCo 4A. The Beavers are one game behind Skyline for first in the Crown Division.
But Ballard should also be getting help in the coming weeks. Alex Stamey, Ian Scott and Trevor Hansen haven’t played this year because of injuries. Montgomery expects all three to be back in time for a run in the postseason. Stamey started last year at second base while Scott is the team’s returning starter in left field.
The Beavers are averaging a little fewer than five runs per game in their absence. Frank Airey, Alex Livengood and George Chrisafis each had RBIs in the win against Kentwood on Saturday. And when fully healthy, the Beavers’ lineup is the team’s strength.
“A lot of the other coaches in the league know a bunch of our hitters,” Montgomery said, “and I think if you asked any of them, ‘Who should be the top hitting team,’ they would probably say us.”
But it’s been the pitching – a question mark heading into the season – that has carried Ballard for much of this season. The Beavers haven’t allowed more than three runs in their last three games, and the staff has a sub-3.00 ERA this season.
That gives Ballard reason to consider a state title an approachable goal heading into the second half of the season. It would be the first in baseball in school history.
“For the last 10 years really, we haven’t done much,” Montgomery said. “It seems like those other schools come over and whoop on the city schools, and so there’s that underdog mentality with these guys.”
Metro League race should be intriguing
In the Metro Mountain Division, Bainbridge and Eastside Catholic are tied for first at 5-1 while Seattle Prep is nipping at both of their heals at 5-2. Bainbridge, in fact, knocked off Eastside Catholic 1-0 on Wednesday. And in the Sound Division, West Seattle sits at 5-1 while Nathan Hale is 8-3 in the league after splitting its last two games against…West Seattle.
Seattle Prep went undefeated in league play last year and won the Mountain Division going away while Chief Sealth pulled away from West Seattle in the Sound Division. The guess here is that those league races will come down to the final game or two this season.
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