Deficits are supposed to be magnified once the playoffs role around.
Even the smallest of margins can seem insurmountable when your season is on the line and pressure is amplified.
This thinking did not apply to this year’s Toledo High School baseball team.
“Every time we’ve ever been down in a game this year, we don’t really care. We just keep playing the game, yelling and being loud,” said junior Dalton Yoder. “We just want to have fun the entire time.”
And what’s more fun than winning a state championship?
Like they did in the state semifinals, the Indians overcame an early deficit, getting a late two-run single from Kyle Bauter and a strong pitching performance from Wes Kuzminsky as they knocked off Pe Ell/Willapa Valley, 4-1, to capture the Class 2B state baseball championship at Wheeler Field in Centralia on May 28.
“This team just doesn’t let much get to them,” said Toledo coach Jeff Davis. “They’re always pretty loose. They like to talk. Nothing seems to bother them. They have this happy-go-lucky attitude when they are down 1-0. We’ve been down before and had to come back. We’re used to it.”
One thing Toledo is not used to, however, is state baseball championships as this trophy marks the squad’s first in school history. The team’s only other state title game appearance game came in 1985 when they lost to Ephrata (8-4) in the 1A finals.
The Indians, who finished their championship season with a record of 22-6, scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth against the Titans (22-4) to put the game away. Alex Bacon’s RBI single kicked started the rally and proved to be the eventual game winner before Bauter drove in a pair of insurance runs.
Kuzminsky struck out four and gave up five hits over 6 1/3 innings of work before Connor Vermilyea notched the save.
Pe Ell/Willapa Valley, champions of the 2B Central League, got on the scoreboard first, getting an RBI single from Ryan Shepherd in the second inning.
Toledo tied the contest in the fourth on Dakota Robins’ RBI single.
“This team doesn’t give up. They play seven innings,” Davis said. “We were down earlier this year four runs to (Adna, last year’s state champions) and we came back to win 7-6. Win or lose this is a great bunch of kids here. It’s been a heck of a ride.”
The Indians opened the year by winning 14 out of their first 15 games, but dropped three out of their last five games regular season games partially due to the fact that Yoder, the team’s starting right fielder and No. 4 hitter, was sidelined after tearing his right meniscus.
With Yoder watching from the bench, Toledo’s postseason run actually got off to a shaky start after the Indians were bumped to the loser-bracket following a first round loss to Napavine in the district tournament. This forced the squad to win three straight games, including a pair of loser-out contests, to secure the district’s No. 3 seed to the regional playoffs.
“We lost our #4 hitter and a guy who is solid in the outfield, but this team kept battling. I was pretty proud of that. Even if they dropped the first game of a double header, they came back and won the second game. It was amazing,” Davis said. “Whoever is out there for us, they are going to play hard. Then we got the shot in the arm getting Dalton back when we did. It was just phenomenal. It couldn’t happen at a better time for us.”
Yoder’s return came at the regional round of the state tournament.
“Every day at practice I would sit in the dugout and coach wouldn’t let me do anything,” said Yoder, who believes the initial tear occurred during football season. “I just had to hang out and wait until I was cleared to play.”
With Yoder back in the lineup, the Indians defeated Colfax (2-0) and Warden (5-2) in the regional round before knocking off Asotin (10-2) in a game they trailed early.
“The whole morale of the team improved when we got him back,” Davis said. “He was taking cuts at (battling practice). I was throwing smoke, but he launched a few out on me. The players knew we had Dalton back.”
Against Asotin in the semifinals, Yoder had a game-high three hits and drove in a run. The Indians also received two hits and three RBI from Kuzminsky, two RBI from Dylan Hoiseck and two hits from Bacon against Asotin.
“They bought into it last year. That was my first year back. I had a 10-year hiatus from coaching here,” Davis said. “Any time you try to do something different, you’re gambling, but if your players are behind it then you have a chance to do something. I couldn’t be prouder of these guys.”