Knox, Wolves victimize Vikings

If pitching and timely hitting win playoff games, the South Kitsap High School baseball team made it clear it has what it takes to make a postseason run with an impressive outing against Puyallup on Saturday afternoon at Heidelberg Park in Tacoma.

The Wolves’ bats produced only five hits, but they parlayed those into four runs — more than enough for SK lefthander Dan Knox, who came within a controversial infield single of throwing a no-hitter at the Vikings.

With the 4-1 win, SK captured the Class 4A West Central District title for the ninth straight season.

SK will open state tournament play against Edmonds-Woodway — the No. 3 team from District 1 — Saturday at 11 a.m. at Heidelberg Park.

“Dan Knox could have had a no-no, the way he was throwing,” SK coach Elton Goodwin said afterward. “If they’d scored that one play the right way, he would have.”

Knox, 8-1, mixed in a few well-placed fastballs with a steady diet of breaking and off-speed pitches to baffle the Puyallup batters. “They were hitting off their front foot the whole game,” Goodwin said. “When Knox is on the mound, our players just know they’re gonna win. He gives us so much confidence.”

SK got the scoring started in the first inning, when rightfielder Boya Quichocho, just protecting the plate on an 0-2 pitch, stroked a one-out single to leftfield past a diving Puyallup third baseman. With Travis Vetters batting, Quichocho promptly stole second and advanced to third when the throw kicked into center field. Vetters then lofted a sacrifice fly to right, giving the Wolves a 1-0 lead.

Puyallup answered in the top of the second, as second baseman Adam Pierce drew a leadoff walk and stole second on the first pitch to Andrew Hardesty. Hardesty then bounced a grounder to short, but the ball was mishandled by SK’s Josh Showers, leaving runners on the corners with no outs.

Puyallup designated hitter Eric White responded with another soft grounder, and Wolves’ second baseman Brandon Nickerson could only get the out at first, as Pierce scored and Hardesty moved to second.

But the Vikings ran themselves out of the inning when Puyallup pitcher Darrin Taylor lashed a hard grounder that SK shortstop Josh Showers fielded and fired to third base, where Hardesty was tagged out trying to advance. A groundout by Puyallup catcher Bryan Ruff ended the threat.

The Wolves broke the game open in the third when catcher Andy Sutton led off with a walk and was lifted for pinchrunner Jeff Goodwin.

SK leftfielder Phil Thomas laid down a bunt, and when Taylor’s throw sailed up the first base line, Goodwin circled the bases and scored. But Thomas was erased when he overran second and got caught in a rundown.

SK centerfielder Tyler Mayfield kept the inning alive with a single off the glove of Viking shortstop Dan Nichol. Mayfield was still on base one out later when Vetters crushed the first pitch he saw from Taylor over the leftfield fence for a two-run homer.

“That was huge,” Goodwin said. “Up until that inning, Knox didn’t have any cushion to work with. Getting up by a few runs allowed him to pitch his game.”

Puyallup’s lone hit came in the fifth, when third baseman Brent Osburn beat out a chopper that SK’s Nickerson appeared to take a little too nonchalantly. It was scored an infield hit, but could easily have been an error, preserving Knox’s no-hitter.

“The call could have gone either way,” Goodwin said. “If not for that, Knox would have had a gem.”

It was the 13th straight win for South Kitsap, 18-3.

Game notes: Puyallup coach Mark Weise attempted to halt the Wolves’ momentum in the critical third inning with a tactic reminiscent of Billy Martin and George Brett. With Tyler Mayfield at the plate for SK, Weise called timeout and asked the home plate umpire to check the amount of pine tar on Mayfield’s bat.

Sure enough, a closer inspection revealed the sticky substance extended farther than 18 inches up the bat handle — a violation of the rules, but one rarely enforced.

The bat was ejected, but Mayfield, unfazed, used a new weapon to stroke a single and was aboard two batters later when Vetters launched his home run.

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