Last year about this time the players and coaches involved in Medical Lake baseball could have easily packed it in.
The Cardinals were in the process of exiting the Great Northern League and that was about as comfortable as getting tossed out of a moving car with their 1-17 record and losses of 18-0 to West Valley and 11-2 to Pullman as the season drew to a close.
It didn’t get a lot better come time for American Legion play either as Medical Lake’s AA League entry finished 5-14. “You can hang your head and say ‘here we go again; it doesn’t matter what we do we’re not going to win,’” Kelly said.
Fast-forward to the waning days of April 2013 and the Cardinals are on top of the Northeast A League sporting a with their baker’s dozen roster – a whole 13 players deep – that includes four freshmen, three sophomores, a couple of juniors to go with four seniors.
The Cardinals sport a 12-1 league record as the regular season moves into the final 10 days. And their coach, Kerry Kelly, knows where to direct the credit for a remarkable turnaround.
“I’ll tell you this team, I’m not surprised because I know they’re a good team,” Kelly said. “They are all so willing to accept their roles,” which mean some days they might surrender their place on the field for a seat on the bench. Allowing a young bat or glove to get the playing time needed to shed the jitters of playing a varsity sport at such a young age.
Kelly’s especially pleased for the players who had to show up at the ballpark last year and get their lunches handed to them.
“In the wins and losses last year during that rough schedule we probably worked twice as hard to keep competing,” Kelly said.
“They didn’t fold their tents, they dug in and worked even harder; they could have easily packed it up and gone home.”
But they didn’t and that galvanized resolve to do what it took improve.
“Our offseason workouts, we had more guys working out,” Kelly said. There were players spending extra time perfecting pitching. “We just had guys with the right mentality, that’s a big time compliment to those boys.”
The rewards so far have been a pair of six-game winning streaks and are a tribute to hard work, “And realizing that only by hard work it can turn around,” Kelly said.
“We didn’t know what to expect going into this league,” Kelly said. “If we didn’t work hard I know we wouldn’t be where we’re at.”
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing and it was one of those bumps in the road that Kelly says may play a huge part in whatever the future holds for the Cardinals.
“Looking back, one thing I think helped us was that loss to Riverside,” Kelly said of the Rams’ 4-0 win back on April 11.
“Our heads were dancing in the clouds a little bit,” Kelly said. “In hindsight that was probably the best thing that happened to us at the right time of the year - to get us refocused on the job at hand.”
The success so far is a combination of things, including working hard on the fundamentals of the game like clutch hitting and timely defense. “We’re doing all the little things to win,” Kelly said.
But a big part rests with the senior battery of pitcher Adam Paulson and Kelly’s son, Kasey, the catcher. The two are not only a powerful weapon, but a catalyst, too. “It’s such a strong thing because Kasey will shut down the running game, Adam will make a big play, and it’s contagious,” their coach said.
Additionally, “We’ve been doing a great job of playing small ball and getting bunts down,” Kelly said. “Our execution puts pressure on the opposing team.”
The opponents try to risk things just a little, forcing them into added errors. “Kasey, Taylor Dormaier, Cory Wagner, Adam Paulson, they put the ball in play and they get down that line and that puts a little added pressure on a shortstop or third baseman to come up with that play,” Kelly said.
So instead of making plans for summer baseball, it seems Medical Lake is in a strong position for a postseason run.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.