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Matt Hilborn struck out nine Cedar Park Christian batters in six innings Wednesday afternoon. (Karen Carlson photos)

Wolf catcher Gavin Knoblich was a rock behind the plate, while also collecting one of Coupeville’s three hits.

Movie buffs will tell you it’s a simple truth.

You can push King Kong around, harass him, pester him, think you have him exactly where you want him, and then, in the blink of an eye, the beast is liable to break free and pop you like a ripe grape.

And so it went for the Coupeville High School baseball squad, which played visiting Cedar Park Christian dead even for six innings Wednesday, only to get squashed in the game’s final frame.

Tied 3-3 heading into the seventh against the North Sound Conference’s biggest, baddest diamond team, the Wolves were primed for an upset of gargantuan proportions.

But it wasn’t to be, as pitch count limits plucked Coupeville ace Matt Hilborn from the mound, and the Eagles promptly savaged the inexperienced Wolf bullpen to claim a 12-3 win.

The loss drops the rebuilding Wolves to 0-2 in league play, 0-4 overall.

The teams, who tangled Monday with CPC winning 10-0, wrap up their season series Friday in Redmond.

Sophomore Daniel Olson, who celebrated his 16th birthday Wednesday by crunching a two-run RBI single, will get the ball in the finale.

After a brief bit of trouble in the top of the first, Hilborn was at his best while facing a powerhouse squad which boasts back-to-back runs to the state tourney semifinals.

The Eagles, as deep and talented as any team Coupeville is likely to face this season, pushed a pair of runs across in the opening frame, only to be denied any more by a bang-bang double play.

With a runner breaking to second on an attempted steal, Hilborn induced the batter to shoot a soft liner back to the mound.

The Wolf senior calmly speared the incoming ball, turned, took a measured step or two towards first-baseman Dane Lucero, then doubled off the wayward runner.

The first inning, when he surrendered a double to right and a two-run single to center, was the only inning in which Hilborn allowed more than a single runner on base at any time.

He sailed through three straight shut-out innings after the first frame, with a little help from catcher Gavin Knoblich, who gunned down a would-be stealer by a country mile.

Given a chance, the Wolf offense answered and reclaimed the lead for Hilborn.

After going three up and three down in the first two innings, Coupeville got a run back in the third, then shot ahead by plating two in the fourth.

Olson, who was my unofficial, but super-efficient, video store manager at David’s DVD Den when he was in kindergarten, had an especially strong day while dreaming of birthday cake under blazing blue skies.

He was the first Wolf to reach base, and the first to score, after scampering down the line as the CPC shortstop botched his chopper to lead off the bottom of the third inning.

Walks to Bryce Payne and Hawthorne Wolfe juiced the bags, before Olson was waved home after the field ump called a balk on a botched pick-off play at first.

While the Eagles escaped after that, thanks to a strikeout and a pop-up snagged in foul territory, the game remained a nail-biter.

Lucero made an especially impressive defensive play as well, chasing down a foul ball behind first base while hurtling within a whisper of entangling himself in the net.

Perhaps sparked by that, or by Hilborn’s calm demeanor on the mound, Coupeville snatched the lead in the bottom of the fourth.

Collecting all three of their hits on the afternoon in one unbroken streak, the Wolves started things with a lil’ flare off the bat of lanky right fielder Ulrik Wells.

The ball skittered off his bat, looped through the surprisingly warm air, then somehow split three defenders converging between the mound and first base.

Against all odds, the orb made it down to the ground, evading all three mitts, and Wells, taking long strides, found himself perched on the bag as CHS coach Chris Smith yelled “Yeah, baby!!” from across the diamond.

Knoblich followed his mate with a smash deep into the hole at short for hit #2, before Olson lofted a gorgeous liner which splashed down into center, giving both of his teammates ample time to hurry home.

Up 3-2, the Wolves put runners at second and third with one out, Olson accompanied by Payne, who eked out another walk, only to have CPC slip away one more time.

The Eagles knotted the game back up with a two-out RBI single in the fifth, with both pitching staffs matching goose eggs after that until the seventh.

Hilborn went out strong, stranding a runner at first in the sixth, rearing back to toss his ninth strikeout before getting a pair of pop-ups.

His velocity might have been down a bit at that point, but he was still gunnin’. Then, enter the state, and exit Hilborn.

Pitch counts, which were instituted to prevent overuse of young hurlers, are the law of the land in Washington state, so it was off to shortstop for Coupeville’s starting ace.

With Lucero having used up his pitches Monday, and Olson slated to start Friday, Chris Smith went to his bullpen, which is very much a work in progress, featuring two freshmen and a varsity newcomer.

Wolfe, Cody Roberts, and Jonny Carlson combined to face 13 hitters in the seventh, and were stung by Cedar Park’s state tourney-tested hitters.

A pair of doubles to deep center, which combined to plate five runners, were killers, but Coupeville’s next gen hurlers did get all three of the inning’s outs by strikeout.

Roberts whiffed one, while Carlson gunned down two of the four hitters he faced.

With a tie ball game suddenly turned into a rout, Smith used the seventh to get some game action for some of his other role players, with Andrew Score pinch-hitting and Gavin Straub pinch-running.

Score, playing in front of older brother, and former Wolf first-baseman Kory, launched a long, arcing fly to center which required the Eagle fielder to take off sprinting before making a pretty sweet catch.

Ever the philosophical coach, Smith talked to his players about the big picture after the game, and had praise for both his veteran hurler, and his younger guys.

Matt pitched a gem of a game, and against a very good hitting team,” Smith said. “He gave us all he could, six great innings, and I’m very happy with his performance out there.

Daniel delivered a huge hit for us; that was beautiful,” he added. “He’s been getting the bat on the ball really well lately, which is why we moved him up in the lineup. It really paid off.”

While Smith wants wins, having his squad, which lost eight seniors to graduation, be able to compete with a team which has valid dreams of winning a state title, is a big first step.

“We want to make them earn it, and we did,” he said. “We need to keep working on our offense, but we’re going in the right direction.

“As long as we keep making sure they have to earn everything, I’m pleased.”

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Gavin Knoblich, here bunting during practice, had one of Coupeville’s two hits Monday night. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

The first league game is officially in the books.

And while it didn’t go the way the Coupeville High School baseball squad might have liked, the Wolves will get an almost immediate rematch.

With the creation of the North Sound Conference, CHS and its foes have adopted a style of play similar to what MLB and college teams do – play actual series, and not just a game here, a game a month later against conference rivals.

So, while Monday night’s 10-0 loss in five innings to Cedar Park Christian under the lights at Marymoor Park in Redmond stings, the Wolves get to bounce back Wednesday and host the Eagles.

That game starts at 4 PM on the prairie, then the two squads clash a third and final time Friday back in Redmond.

A young, rebuilding Coupeville team, now 0-1 in league play, 0-3 overall, is facing the King Kong of the NSC right out of the gate.

CPC finished 4th at the 1A state tourney in 2018, and 2nd a season before that.

The Eagles have power pitching, and power hitting, to spare, and they showed it Monday night.

Cedar Park hurlers whiffed nine Wolves, while having to deal with only three CHS runners across five innings of play.

Coupeville’s best opportunity came in the top of the first, when freshman Hawthorne Wolfe ripped a one-out double, then stole third.

He never made it home, however, as Cedar Park blunted any hopes of an early rally, escaping the inning on a fly-out and a strikeout.

The only other hit the Wolves had on the night came in the top of the second, as Gavin Knoblich whacked a lead-off single.

Unfortunately, the junior catcher died a quick death on the base-paths, as did Wolfe when he reached on an error in the fourth inning.

Coupeville threw three pitchers against CPC, with Dane Lucero doing most of the work.

He tossed four innings, including a scoreless first, before giving way to the tag-team of Jonny Carlson and Knoblich to finish the game.

Cedar Park’s big inning came in the second, when it broke a scoreless tie thanks to a couple walks, an error, and a huge three-run triple off of the bat of its #8 hitter, London Conard.

Up 4-0 after that blow, the Eagles added two runs in the third, three more in the fourth, then brought an early end to the game by pushing across a run to start the fifth, invoking the ten-run mercy rule.

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College baseball players CJ (left) and Hunter Smith hang out with the true star of the family, lil’ sis Scout. (Charlotte Young photo)

The Smith boys are settling into the college baseball life.

After playing four games over the weekend, the Green River College baseball squad, and their Coupeville stars, are coming up fast on the quarter mark of the season.

The Gators have hit a bit of a downward spiral in recent days, dropping their last five to slide to 3-6 on the season, nine games into a 38-game schedule.

But two of the bright points for Green River have been CHS grads CJ and Hunter Smith.

The former is the team’s top relief ace, while the latter is spending his days starting at second base or shortstop.

CJ has appeared in four games, recording his team’s only save and posting a 1.93 ERA.

That’s the lowest number for any Gator pitcher with more than one appearance.

The older of the Smith brothers has thrown 4.2 innings, faced 22 batters, given up just one earned run, whiffed two and plunked another two.

Hunter has started in eight of nine games, racking up three hits, including a triple, while walking four times, scoring four times, and collecting three RBI.

In the field, he has 17 put-outs and a team-high 16 assists.

While the brothers are separated by two years, they are both in their freshmen season at Green River.

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Taking a break from smashing people in the shot put, Emma Smith eyeballs how Coupeville sports teams are doing in the early-season standings. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

Everyone’s moving at their own pace.

Spotty weather and raging illness has disrupted the start of spring sports a bit for everyone, but some teams are taking a harder shot to the kidneys than others.

Coupeville High School softball and boys soccer have already played four games apiece, while baseball is finally getting churning with two contests under its belt.

Meanwhile, girls tennis continues to practice, but has yet to face an opponent wearing a different uniform.

And, while track and field is coming off of its first meet, we exclude them from these weekly league standings stories, as the sport isn’t about compiling team win/loss records.

Next week promises a ton more games, weather and health permitting, and yet the Wolf netters still won’t get on the big board, as their first match, barring any late additions to the schedule, doesn’t go down until Mar. 28.

Until then, they, and the rest of us, can spend a few moments marinating in the standings through Mar. 17:

 

North Sound Conference softball:

School League Overall
Coupeville 0-0 2-2
CPC-Bothell 0-0 0-0
Granite Falls 0-0 0-2
South Whidbey 0-0 1-1
Sultan 0-0 0-1

 

North Sound Conference baseball:

School League Overall
Coupeville 0-0 0-2
CPC-Bothell 0-0 0-1
Granite Falls 0-0 1-2
King’s 0-0 1-1
South Whidbey 0-0 2-0
Sultan 0-0 0-1

 

North Sound Conference girls tennis:

School League Overall
Coupeville 0-0 0-0
Friday Harbor 0-0 0-0
Granite Falls 0-0 0-1
King’s 0-0 0-0
South Whidbey 0-0 0-1

 

North Sound Conference boys soccer:

School League Overall
Coupeville 0-0 2-2-0
CPC-Bothell 0-0 0-1-0
King’s 0-0 1-1-1
South Whidbey 0-0 3-0-0
Sultan 0-0 0-2-0

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Bryce Payne scores his first run Saturday, joining older brothers Morgan and Cole as “made men” for CHS baseball. (Joan Payne photo)

The youngest brother is a made man.

Coupeville High School senior Bryce Payne, in his first season with the Wolves, walked and came around to score Saturday, one of the bright spots in a 13-1 loss to visiting Overlake.

While the non-league defeat drops the Wolves to 0-2 as they prepare to head into their first league series, small things like quality work from Coupeville’s pitchers and the identity of the player who scored the lone Wolf run, made the day better.

Bryce follows in the footsteps of older brothers Morgan and Cole, both four-year players, and his first run in a Wolf uniform means the Paynes are one of the few families to have three different players score in a CHS varsity baseball game.

I’m pretty sure there’s a couple of others, probably with names like Zylstra, Cook, or Keefe, but I can’t say for sure, as Coupeville’s baseball history is scattered across many long-missing score books and lineup cards.

Either way, the Paynes are surely in an elite fraternity now, and that’s pretty special.

Overlake, a ritzy private academy, came out firing Saturday, putting up three runs in the top of the first, then adding another seven during a 12-batter second inning.

Their hosts had a few chances to score, most noticeably in their half of the first, but the Wolves couldn’t plate a runner until the bottom of the fifth (and final) inning.

After the first two CHS hitters went down in the bottom of the first, the Wolves juiced the bags on a single from Jake Pease, an error which allowed Dane Lucero to scamper to first, and a walk to Ulrik Wells.

Coupeville fans leaned forward in their seats, anticipating a possible big explosion, but it wasn’t to be as Overlake’s pitcher escaped the jam with an inning-ending strikeout.

After that, the Wolf offense hit a bit of a wall for awhile, going one-two-three the next two innings.

A fourth-inning single from Gavin Knoblich snapped the dry spell, then Coupeville loaded the bases again in the bottom of the fifth.

Walks to Payne, Hawthorne Wolfe, and Pease put a runner atop every bag, before Payne made a mad dash home to score on a passed ball.

Any hopes of an epic comeback withered on the vine, however, as a ground-out to the Overlake shortstop brought the game to an end.

While he’s always looking for a win, Coupeville coach Chris Smith knows he has a young, fairly inexperienced team on his hands, after losing a large class to graduation.

Improvement, in big and small ways, is job #1.

“Pretty happy with our pitching so far,” Smith said. “We had Dane, Hawk and Matt (Hilborn) throw yesterday and Daniel (Olson), Cody (Roberts), and Matt throw today. Pitching has been doing a pretty good job overall.

“And we have been doing a decent job getting on base,” he added. “We just need to get some timely hitting to put some crooked numbers on the scoreboard.”

Coupeville wades into the start of league play next week, and gets to face the biggest and baddest of them all, Cedar Park Christian, early.

The Eagles, who lost 7-4 to 3A Juanita in their only game this season, finished second at the 1A state tourney in 2017, then followed that up with a 4th place showing in 2018.

The teams meet three times next week, playing Monday and Friday in Bothell, while clashing Wednesday in Coupeville.

After that, the Wolves face their final three non-conference foes, Chimacum, University Prep, and Friday Harbor, before playing 12 games against league foes King’s, South Whidbey, Sultan, and Granite Falls.

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