By Lee Horton
Peninsula Daily News
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Needing only one win to qualify for the Bi-District tournament, Quilcene lost to Muckleshoot and Evergreen Lutheran last week.
“It was like somebody had died,” Quilcene coach Forrest Thomson said of his team's reaction to its season ending loss to Evergreen Lutheran.
“Especially for the seniors.”
The loss to the Eagles on Friday was a 1-0 heartbreaker.
With a runner on third base and two outs in the fifth inning, Evergreen Lutheran bunted home the winning run.
Quilcene pitcher Jacob Pleines and first basemen Nate Weller both charged the bunt, but nobody covered first base. The batter who bunted was safe and the game's only run scored.
“It was typical of what happened this year,” Quilcene coach Forrest Thomson said.
After a third-place state finish last year, Quilcene had a chance to do even better this season, perhaps even win a state championship, especially with most of the team returning, including ace Pleines, who was the 2013 All-Peninsula Baseball MVP.
But a sore arm kept Pleines from pitching for almost three weeks in April, and a roster that dwindled throughout the season forced Thomson to rotate players to unfamiliar positions, which meant the team wasn't a sharp at doing the little things.
Quilcene had a great scoring opportunity in the top of the sixth inning (although the game was played in Quilcene, the Rangers were the road team of record).
A.J. Prater led off with a double — “Just a bomb,” Thomson said, adding that it likely would have cleared the fence at most fields that have fences, which Quilcene does not.
Pleines reached safely on a bunt single and advanced Prater to third. Pleines then stole second base to give the Rangers runners on second and third with no outs.
Josh King hit a fly ball to shallow center that was caught, and Thomson sent Prater home but he was thrown out before he could score.
Weller, who has been Quilcene's top hitter of late, was up next but was unable to score Pleines or extend the inning.
Pleines took the loss for the Rangers, but struck out 15 batters and allowed only two hits in six innings.
Pleines ends the season with a 5-2 record.
Earlier in the week, the Rangers lost to Muckleshoot 9-7.
Thomson said it was the first time in Quilcene's history that it lost to the Kings.
The Rangers held a lead in the sixth inning and were one strikeout away from getting out of the inning, but were unable to do so.
So much went wrong for Quilcene. The Rangers even had a difficult time even having games, as they played only 12 this season.
“It just didn't happen for us this year,” Thomson said.
Now, Quilcene baseball faces an uncertain future.
Pleines' brilliant career is over, as are those of the other seniors who played big roles this season: King, J.J. Smith and Ryan Winn.
Prater and Weller, both sophomores, will return next year, as does this year's No. 2 pitcher Eli Harrison and starting third baseman Triston Williams.
Unfortunately, Harrison also will be the team's only returning catcher.
Even more concerning is participation.
While Quilcene's softball team has more than 20 players, the baseball team played its last game with 10 players, nine of whom were healthy.
As missed as the talent of Pleines, King, Smith and Winn, the lack of their human bodies might create a larger void.
The Rangers are dangerously close to not having enough players to field a baseball team, which would be a shame for a program with a tradition of postseason participation.
Thomson is optimistic, though.
“My guess is there will be enough kids for the team, just barely,” Thomson said.
He said he expects some eighth-graders to join the team next spring and there are other kids in the school who didn't play this season who could join the Rangers in 2015.
Sports Editor Lee Horton can be reached at 360-417-3525 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.