LACEY — The Tigers learned on Friday afternoon that their baseball season would not feature any games, let alone school, for a six-week stretch beginning March 16.
They slept on this bit of disheartening information and awoke Saturday morning to thick, dubious snowflakes descending upon the Hub City, a sight nearly as confounding as the 10 games on their schedule marked “postponed.”
Despite those two aforementioned oddities, Centralia was able to squeeze in a pair of baseball games with 3A Timberline here Saturday, providing much-needed catharsis against a backdrop of general apprehension.
The Tigers dropped the opener, 6-3, but bounced back with a 3-0 win in the late game to head into the six-week school closure — mandated by Gov. Jay Inslee to help slow the spread of novel coronavirus — with more innings to their name than any other school in the 2A classification.
“It’s great for the kids to get out and play, bottom line,” Centralia coach Rex Ashmore said. “It’s freaking cold out here, but it’s great to play the game and I’m happy for them that they get the chance to play today.”
Ashmore’s comments came after more than four hours of season-opening baseball in low-40s temperatures with wind dropping the on-field feel a few degrees lower.
“It was so cold out there,” Centralia pitcher Derek Beairsto said. “Like, when you grab the bat, it was like you didn’t want to miss, you know? If you miss, you’re going to feel it.”
Beairsto, a senior righthander, was sharp over four strong innings in the opener, striking out seven and giving up two hits without an earned run or a walk. The fact that the game happened at all, though, was more notable than the outcome.
“It felt so weird, but it was kind of cool,” Centralia first baseman Jackson Hull said. “Because no one else gets to do that.”
The two games at Timberline High School on Saturday were the only games featuring local teams, if not Washington teams in general, played before the six-week shutdown goes into effect. The postponement of spring sports in general comes with its own set of open-ended questions about what happens next.
“It’s kind of hard to get your hopes up,” Hull, a senior, said. “I’ve heard so many different things, I don’t know what to believe.”
Ashmore said he hopes the postponement is exactly what it sounds like now, rather than an all-out cancellation of the remainder of the 2020 spring sports schedule.
“I think we’ll find a way to have a condensed season somehow, and whether that means we’ll have a state tournament or not, I don’t know — but I think we’ll find a way to play baseball,” he said. “Seeing the emotion in our kids last night, when I told them we were off, it means something to these kids to play baseball. And all spring athletes, especially the seniors, they need to play.”
Hull echoed that sentiment. The players were informed Friday during their sixth-period classes that school was being cancelled until at least April 24, and with it roughly two-thirds of their baseball season.
“It was super upsetting, knowing we have six weeks off,” he said. “This is our time to shine.”
The Tigers did shine on Saturday, though most of the bright spots came in the twinbill’s second game.
Hull and Cameron Cabrera each went 2 for 3 in the opener, and Joey Unger laced an RBI double to the fence in right-center field to score the Tigers’ first run in the third inning. Bayden Teitzel knocked in a run with a fielder’s choice in the fifth inning and Noah Aliff scored on a wild pitch in the fifth. With the game tied at 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth, however, Timberline’s Kaleb McNeely hit a fly ball to left field that was lost in the clouds with the bases loaded, allowing three runs to score and giving the Blazers all the ammunition they’d need for the final 6-3 victory.
In Game 2, though, Benito Valencia and Hull combined for a seven-strikeout, one-hit shutout. Centralia scored all three of its runs in the fourth inning; Nolan Rice reached on a single and Cameron Erickson was hit by a pitch, setting up a two-run hit from Beairsto. Two batters later Unger doubled to drive in the Tigers’ final run.
And with that win in the books, the Tigers were officially on extended leave, hoping it wasn’t permanent, and planning out how to handle the unexpected intermission.
“The best thing we can do is just try to stick together and try to get better,” Beairsto said. “We have a lot of time off, so there’s obviously a lot of time where we’re not going to be organized playing baseball. So we can just go out there on our own time and try to continue to get better.”
Ashmore was hopeful not only that the season would resume, but that his players will be ready when the time comes.
“We’re not going to do anything with them,” Ashmore said, “but I think our seniors will do what they need to do to keep our pitchers throwing, which will be the biggest thing.”
At this point, school is cancelled until April 24; the first game on the schedule after that is a date with Black Hills at Ed Wheeler Field on April 28.
A week ago, that would have been Centralia’s 10th Evergreen 2A Conference game of the season; on Friday afternoon, it didn’t sound likely to happen at all.
Then again, neither did Saturday’s doubleheader.
“Yesterday at three o’clock they thought they weren’t going to get to play a game all year,” Ashmore said, “and we’ll see what happens. I don’t think we’re done.”