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Peninsula Daily News
QUILCENE — The Quilcene baseball and softball teams are heading to state arm-first.
Both have talent up and down their respective lineups, but what sets them apart, and what will likely be the key factors in the two teams advancing in the 1B state tournaments is the pitching of Jacob Pleines and Sammy Rae.
Pleines and the baseball team head to Yakima for the state regionals Saturday.
If the Rangers win their morning tilt (10 a.m.) with the Pateros Billygoats, then they will face the winner between Oakville and Lake Quinault at 4 p.m.
Should they win that game, the Rangers will return to Central Washington next weekend for the 1B state championship game in Ellensburg.
The softball team qualified for state by drilling Muckleshoot 19-0 on Tuesday.
Pleines, a left-hander who is also the quarterback for Quilcene’s football team and the basketball team’s high scorer, said his favorite part of pitching is being the focal point of big moments.
“I just love having all the pressure on me, being the spotlight of attention, and having to get a strikeout or having to get a ground-out,” he said.
“You know, just having to make the play and beat the batter. I love that.”
Perhaps adding to the pressure on Pleines and his teammates this weekend is that Quilcene has no state baseball wins in its history.
Pleines said the team’s goal is to finally win one.
“This season, we’re looking really, really good,” Pleines said.
“We’re out-matching every team we play, just dominating. Our bats have really come alive this year, and pitching is pretty good.
“We’re just looking really good. We can win games and make it to the state final.”
To better prepare his team for big games, coach Forrest Thomson put together a tough nonleague schedule for the Rangers.
This included a matchup with 2A Sequim’s varsity team in mid-March. The Wolves won 12-3, but were held in check during Pleines’ innings on the mound.
As was the case in many of Quilcene’s nonleague games, Pleines was limited in order to save his arm for 1B Sea-Tac League games. But he pitched enough to make an impression.
“I definitely remember him,” Sequim coach Dave Ditlefsen said earlier this month.
“He would definitely be one of the toughest pitchers we would face in our league, too.”
Meanwhile, Pleines has been shutting down league foes.
Against Muckleshoot on March 15, Pleines struck out 19 and allowed only three hits in Quilcene’s 9-0 win. That’s 19 of 21 outs coming via strikeout.
“There’s not a feeling like that,” Pleines said of that game.
“Everything was on that day. It just felt perfect. My arm — I threw a hundred and something pitches, and after the game I felt like I could throw another hundred.
“I just felt so dominant that day. Just one of those days where you feel like you’re on top of the world.”
Pleines has used a combination of athleticism, intelligence and experience to excel on the mound this season.
“He’s a good athlete. He’s well-coordinated, he’s 6-foot and a pretty well-built kid,” Thomson said.
“And he’s been pitching for several years. It seems like he’s been on the team forever — he started as an eighth grader.
“He’s also a real bright kid, he might be one of the brightest kids in our school. So, that helps him, too. He’s got a great memory and can process things quickly.”
Pleines has an arsenal of three pitches, for which he said Thomson deserves a lot of credit.
Thomson was Pleines’ sixth-grade teacher, and during recess they practiced pitching.
“He taught me all the different grips for the curveball and the knuckleball and the cutter, and all the different types of pitches,” Pleines said.
“He really helped me out with my mechanics.”
Throws like a Rae
Rae also had a tutor show her the finer points of pitching — her cousin Aly Rae, who pitched at Chimacum and Port Angeles, and who earned two All-Peninsula MVPs, a Nisqually League MVP and an Olympic League co-MVP for her work on the mound during the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
“She taught me a lot. Like, everything,” Sammy Rae said.
Although only a sophomore, Sammy Rae has already racked up some honors of her own — including All-Peninsula in softball, volleyball and basketball.
Quilcene softball coach Mark Thompson said her effectiveness comes from an uncanny ability to keep everyone guessing.
“Her ball is moving; it’s not just a straight fastball. [Batters] can’t pick the laces up on it,” Thompson, who is in his first year of coaching softball, said.
“She naturally takes something off her pitch every once in a while, which gives her a change up. But, she does it naturally; it just happens, and the ball goes to a different place every time.
“I stopped calling pitches after the second game.”
That doesn’t mean Rae also can’t throw heat.
“It’s hard . . . just to be down there catching her warm-ups while my catcher is getting the gear on,” Thompson said.
“I’m real anxious for that catcher to emerge from the dugout and take my spot.”
Rae admits that she doesn’t necessarily control where her pitches go. So, sometimes, they hit batters or get hit by batters.
Therefore, she said composure is the most important thing a pitcher can possess.
“Always having a straight face, and if you hit someone, you just shake it off and go onto the next batter,” Rae said.
Her ability to recover and refocus was displayed earlier this month in the Rangers’ 6-4 win over Taholah.
After striking out the side in the first inning and only allowing one base runner in the second inning — on a hit by pitch — Rae struggled with her control in the third inning and walked in four runs.
She ended the inning with a pair of bases-loaded strikeouts, and was dominant from that point on, finishing with 17 strikeouts and allowing just two hits in the game.
At the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning, she belted a liner to right field to score the go-ahead runs and complete Quilcene’s comeback from a 4-0 deficit.
Although the Rangers are young — freshmen and sophomores make up a large portion of their roster — Rae says they are better equipped that the previous two years to make a run at state.
She showed her own postseason mettle by no-hitting Muckleshoot on Tuesday in the bi-district championship game that clinched Quilcene’s berth to next weekend’s 1B state tournament at Gateway Sports Complex in Yakima.