By Lee Horton
Peninsula Daily News
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“He talked about it during basketball season,” said Quilcene’s baseball head coach Forrest Thomson, who also was an assistant for the school’s basketball team.
“He knew how good the team could be.”
The Rangers’ ace was spot on.
Quilcene brought home a third-place trophy from the 1B state tournament, becoming the first Rangers baseball team to win a state game and the first-ever Quilcene boys athletic team to place at state.
Leading the assault on school history was Pleines, a junior left-hander who has been selected as the 2013 All-Peninsula baseball MVP.
“We pretty much executed all of our goals,” Pleines said of the season.
Pleines went 8-0 on the season, with 108 strikeouts, and allowing only nine walks and just seven earned runs (1.07 ERA) in 58 2/3 innings pitched.
Can hit and run, too
As the Rangers’ No. 3 hitter, Pleines had a .556 batting average and a .674 on-base percentage, with 18 RBI and 19 runs.
He also had four doubles and two triples, figures that probably would have been higher if not for his speed on the base paths.
“If it was close, we didn’t send him, because we knew he could steal second,” Thomson said.
Pleines stole 25 bases in 26 attempts.
Pleines dedicated himself to helping Quilcene improve on its consecutive one-and-done trips to the state tournament the two previous seasons.
“This year, he really made a concerted effort to be a better player,” Thomson said.
“He improved his pitching, and knew he had to build up better arm strength.
“He was a lot more serious, more determined.”
This included refining his already stellar control, upgrading his two-seam fastball and having a better arc on his pitches.
Pleines also made strides with his bat, an area that has been a work in progress since Pleines first started for the Rangers as an eighth grader.
He was much more confident and comfortable at the plate this season.
“I really worked on batting,” Pleines said.
“I was seeing the ball better as it came to me; I was really, really seeing the ball.”
Pleines’ bat had some big moments this year, including a two-run triple that gave Quilcene an early season win over Sea-Tac League foe Mount Rainier Lutheran.
That win would prove important, as the Hawks were the Rangers’ only serious obstacle to claim the league title and a state berth.
“He was really clutch for us,” Thomson said.
Pleines was clutch on the mound and at the plate in Quilcene’s 7-2 win over Pateros in the state tournament.
He pitched all seven innings, striking out 13 and walking one. Both of the Billygoats’ runs were unearned.
He also drove in a pair of runs and scored another.
Pleines said that win was the highlight of the season, on both a personal and a team level.
“We were the most pumped we ever have been [after beating Pateros],” Pleines said.
“Getting that last strikeout to finish that game was a great, great feeling.”
Tasting state success has Pleines hungry for more in his last year of high school baseball.
The Rangers lose only two players from this season’s team to graduation, Lucas Murphy and Tyson Svetich, and Pleines is aiming for even more improvement.
He wants to get his pitch speed up from around 80 miles per hour to 85 miles per hour.
That’s how fast Brandon Bancroft, the school’s all-time career strikeout leader, could throw his senior season.
Pleines said playing alongside Bancroft, a fellow lefty with similar mechanics, for two years was valuable.
But, except for speed, Pleines isn’t trying to be the next Brandon Bancroft.
“Watching him helped me a lot,” Pleines said.
“People compare me to him, but I just try to be like myself.”
Sports reporter Lee Horton can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5152 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.