Sports

25 years later, South Kitsap state baseball title still seems unreal

Elton Goodwin guided the Wolves to an improbable title 25 years ago. - Kenny Gatlin Photo
Elton Goodwin guided the Wolves to an improbable title 25 years ago.
— image credit: Kenny Gatlin Photo

The base still sits in his recreation room.

As former South Kitsap baseball coach Elton Goodwin recalls it, the groundskeeper at Kent Memorial rushed over to the Wolves’ team bus. He wanted to know what happened to first base.

Goodwin shrugged, dumbfounded. The players remained silent.

Days later, it was presented to Goodwin at the team banquet with the signature of each player inscribed. The base represents that day 25 years ago today, in a sense.

They stole the Class AAA championship that just about everyone picked Davis to win.

After all, the Pirates weren’t just a good high school baseball program. They were nationally ranked and featured right-handed pitcher Todd Stottlemyre, who pitched in the major leagues from 1988-02, and Montie Phillips, a ninth-round selection by Kansas City as an outfielder in 1983.

The supporting cast for the Yakima school, which entered the game with a 24-0 record, was nearly as impressive.

Philadelphia Phillies Northwest scout Dave Ryles said that team was the most impressive in the state he had seen until Jackson won the 4A championship two years ago. He said Davis and Jackson are the two best teams he’s seen since he began scouting the Northwest in 1980.

“I was hoping Elton wouldn’t get embarrassed,” said Ryles, adding that Goodwin is one of the two or three best high school coaches he’s seen in the state. “That’s one of the top two or three things that really shocked me.”

Ryles said that’s not only because of Davis’ talent, but he said South wasn’t even expected to advance to state.

Even Goodwin acknowledges that South’s 2-1 win was improbable.

“They were ranked in the top 10 nationally,” he said. “We were totally David and Goliath.”

That wasn’t the message South starting pitcher Cully Ecklund remembers.

“I don’t think we believed that anyone could beat us,” said Ecklund, who owns a print shop in Montesano and has a son, Bryndon, who has signed to play baseball at Air Force. “If you were the type of guy who was going to pack it in when things were going bad, you weren’t going to play on that team.”

Ecklund needed that confidence when Davis loaded the bases with the game tied, 1-all, in the sixth inning and one out.

He relied on his slider — as he did throughout the game — to get out of the inning.

“His slider was super,” Goodwin told the Independent at the time. “He kept Davis off balance all evening. They did hit some deep flies, but basically Cully made them hit the ball on the ground.”

The Wolves finally broke the tie in the bottom of the seventh when first baseman Garen Kenoyer hit a single off starter Doug Hayden.

Goodwin then sent in Steve Nelson, a tailback for the football team who was “faster than hell” to run for Kenoyer.

It worked when second baseman Andy Kimple hit a 3-2 pitch into right-center field for a triple that brought home the winning run.

“When I saw that ball fly past the outfielder’s head, it was kind of an out-of-body experience,” Kimple said. “Next to the birth of my children, it was the coolest and fondest memory I’ve had.”

A quarter century later, the feat has been repeated several times at South. Goodwin again guided the baseball program to championships in 1996 and ended his tenure with one in 2003.

The Wolves’ football and fastpitch teams produced two champions in the 1994-95 school year. Other programs, such as boys basketball and soccer, have finished second.

But in 1983, a championship at South was a novelty. It was only the second in school history — the boys basketball team won the title in 1950.

Baseball is a sport replete with superstitions and Goodwin isn’t without his. Consider that he was born in 1950 and his twin boys, Jeff and Joel, were born a little more than a month after the championship on July 20.

Title to title.

“It was the most unbelievable thing I’ve experienced in my life,” Goodwin said. “To face someone you didn’t think you had a chance against. We had a good high school baseball team, but we weren’t even close.”

The Wolves’ 1983 squad didn’t feature any future major-league players. Jim Reaves, the No. 2 starter behind Ecklund who had an 8-0 record with a 2.46 ERA, was cut from the team as a sophomore two years earlier.

Contrast that with Goodwin’s nationally ranked 1996 team that featured future major-leaguers Willie Bloomquist and Jason Ellison.

While third baseman Brady Steiger hit five home runs this season, the Wolves didn’t hit any 25 years ago.

Ecklund said that wasn’t a factor, though. There was an expectation among the players — many of whom grew up together.

“Most of us were always a part of winners,” he said. “We were more shocked when we lost.”

That rarely happened at South until the playoffs came around. The Wolves were eliminated in the first round at state in 1980-81 and the championship ended what Goodwin called “a frustrating time.”

Kimple said Goodwin was respected before the championship, but his profile was elevated afterward.

“It kind of validated everything he taught,” said Kimple, who hit .372 as a senior. “For a player coming through, you listen more because he’s proven he can take a team all the way.”

Goodwin agreed and added that the coaching staff added an annual summer camp that often featured more than 100 youths. Among the players who attended those camps were Bloomquist and pitcher Sean Spencer, who later pitched at UW and briefly for the Seattle Mariners.

Ecklund, whose brother Darvin was a junior third baseman and pitcher on that team, said Goodwin, who posted a 491-136 record from 1976-03, produced strong teams because he emphasized details.

“If we needed a bunt, you better put it down,” he said. “I think that’s why Elton was so successful. He stressed the little things.”

The community didn’t. Kimple said the return to Port Orchard had a “Norman Rockwell feel.”

“They had us on a barge in the parade,” he said. “There were signs on reader boards throughout the town. Back then, there wasn’t a business that didn’t support the high-school athletics. Most of them even came to the games.”

The 1996 team might have been his best and the 2003 version sent him into retirement as a champion, but Goodwin said neither of those titles were as special as his first.

“We just didn’t have any great, great baseball players,” he said. “We just had good baseball players who wanted to win.”

And steal away, too.

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