IT’S BEEN A bumpy road for the new era of Chimacum baseball.
Traditionally one of the top 1A programs in the state, the Cowboys have taken the back seat this year with a youthful and inexperienced team.
Coach Jim Dunn cautions about writing Chimacum off.
“The process is still there, the tradition is still there,” he said.
“Everything is in place.”
The Cowboys are just taking a few lumps while the youngsters mature and prepare for another run at a state title.
In the six years up to 2012, the Cowboys have placed in the top three in state four times, including capturing two 1A championships.
The team should have had a fifth top-three finish last season except for an unexpected stumble in the quarterfinals with another star-studded team.
After winning state in 2011 with superstars Landon Cray, Quinn Eldridge and Austin McConnell, the Cowboys were expected to finish at least in the top two last year with essentially the same lineup as in 2011.
But Chimacum ran into a hot state-class pitcher at the wrong time, losing 1-0 to Kalama in the second round to spoil a 19-0 perfect season at the time to finish 19-1 and out of the running for another title.
The Cowboys lost a ton of four-year seniors from the 2012 squad and were expected to have some growing pains this year, but probably not at the depths they have struggled in 2013.
Chimacum ended the season on a good note by ending the season with a 2-0 victory over Bellevue Christian on Thursday.
But that was only the fifth win of the season for the Cowboys as they finish 5-13, just the second time in the past seven years that they had a losing record.
Chimacum won state in 2007 with Devin Cray and a youthful Arlo Evasick leading the way but then missed state the next year with an 8-9 record.
But the Cowboys picked up steam again in 2009 when Landon Cray — Devin Cray’s cousin — Quinn Eldridge and McConnell were freshmen.
Those incredible freshmen took third in 2009, second in 2010 as sophomores and first in 2011 as juniors before the unexpected early exit from state in 2012.
Landon Cray was the Superman on a team full of Batmans and Green Lanterns.
Cray filled his cousin’s shoes quite well, and then some.
The younger Cray was a four-time Nisqually League MVP and now is a budding star at Division I Seattle University.
Landon Cray is hitting .296 with 20 runs, three doubles, two triples, three home runs and 15 RBI while playing mostly right field and center field through Friday.
Two of his homers came against the Washington Huskies where Cray has been super hot, going 3 for 3 with a homer and five RBI in a 10-4 Seattle victory while playing right field, and he had a homer while batting lead-off and playing center field in a 14-1 loss to the Huskies.
The 2013 Cowboys have no superstars, and essentially are mostly newbies to high school varsity baseball.
Keep in mind, though, that the Cowboys have had seven one-run losses this year.
“For the most part, we have been in every league game,” Dunn said.
It’s been frustrating, though, because mental mistakes have been hurting the Cowboys, the coach added.
“We have been killing ourselves,” Dunn said.
With more mental toughness, Chimacum could have turned around those close losses into one-run wins, he added.
It hasn’t helped that Michael Nordberg wasn’t able to come out for the team this year.
Nordberg, a junior on last year’s stellar team, was expected to be the 2013 team leader with the skill set at the same level of Eldridge and McConnell.
“That was a huge blow there,” Dunn said about losing Nordberg for baseball.
Nordberg suffered a serious head injury and was life-flighted to Harborview Hospital in Seattle during a football game last fall.
He wasn’t cleared to play sports this spring.
“We missed his hitting and his leadership abilities this year,” Dunn said.
And it also hasn’t helped that fellow senior Derek Ajax, an experienced senior who was expecting to be a major contributor, was hampered with a hamstring injury all season.
Of the other three seniors on the team, two came in with no varsity experience.
No one stepped up to take a leadership role this year, which probably was a major reason the team never really jelled on the field this year.
Player leadership is vitally important for a team, Dunn said.
Someone or a couple of players need to step up to the leadership plate in 2014 to help the Cowboys get that state-class swagger back.
The 2013 team was not without talent.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel with youngsters such as Myles Hundley and Alex Morris coming back.
“We were starting four sophomores and a freshman this year,” Dunn said.
“We have a decent sophomore class. If they put the effort in they will get better.
“We have the [winning] tradition. These kids can do it. If they put the time in and shoot for the stars, they can get better.
“But you have to put the time in.”
There’s every reason to believe the Cowboys will get back on track next year and begin putting the fear into other 1A teams.
________Sports Editor Brad LaBrie can be reached at 360-417-3525 or at [email protected]