Veteran BI Majors team advances to state tournment

Matthew Spence, first baseman for the Bainbridge Majors team, fields a grounder during practice Wednesday. Spence hit one of the team
Matthew Spence, first baseman for the Bainbridge Majors team, fields a grounder during practice Wednesday. Spence hit one of the team's five home runs in a 17-5 District 2 win over Gig Harbor American Thursday to qualify for the state tournament next weekend.
— image credit: Dennis Anstine/Staff Photo

Confidence was palpable whenever Bainbridge Island Little League Majors (11-12) manager Troy Niehaus spoke this week about his all-star team.

The coach was still preaching his “one-game-at-a-time” mantra to his team on Wednesday, and with an impressive 17-5 win over Gig Harbor American Thursday evening the team now has a shot at reaching its ultimate goal – a state championship.

The islanders roared through the District 2 tournament in Belfair by outscoring their opponents 62-8 in winning all five games. They will open state tournament play on July 23 in Vancouver, Wash.

Bainbridge scored multiple runs in all six innings Thursday to defeat Gig Harbor American for the second time in the tournament. Collin Keefe led Bainbridge with two of the five home runs hit by the team, and pitched five innings to earn the win.

Bainbridge breezed through the first three games of the tournament, winning “mercy rule” games that ended after 3 1/2 innings and gave Niehaus the luxury of resting his pitchers.

Niehaus won’t talk superlatives or single out individuals in front of his players, but a conversation in a lonely dugout reveals how much he likes his team.

“This a great group of exceptional players who have great attitudes,” he said. “And they’re all great friends who really enjoy playing as a team., It’s a lot of fun for them, which makes them a joy to coach.”

All of the players except one were members of the 10-11 team that placed second in the state tournament last year to Asotin County.

Bainbridge spotted the Eastern Washington team a nine-run lead before losing 9-8 and then lost a 6-3 decision in the championship game.

Niehaus believes that losing twice when the team was on the brink of a championship has helped the players focus this year on each step of the ladder.

“The makeup of this team is its cohesiveness, where they play as a team, not as individuals,” Niehaus said. “They’ll need that because it won’t be easy for them going forward. Right now, they’re focused on winning one game at a time.”

He considers the team’s hitting abilities to be its main strength, though he thinks the pitching is good enough to successfully handle tournament play.

“All 13 of our players hit line drives regularly,” he said. “They’re very aggressive and they love to hit. Not that we aren’t strong on the mound, too. We’re deep at pitching with four good ones.”

Warren King, who Niehaus considers his ace, threw 88 pitches over 5 2/3 shutout innings in the 6-0 win over Gig Harbor American Tuesday night. Niehaus said King will start the opener Vancouver a week from Saturday.

Who will Bainbridge play?

Bainbridge Island’s first game would be against Asotin County. That put a smile on Niehaus's face.

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