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Ulrik Wells flies home with the winning run Friday, as 0-12 Coupeville stuns 13-1 South Whidbey. (Karen Carlson photo)

The scruff is on its way out.

As his team fought through a 12-game losing streak to open the season, Coupeville High School assistant baseball coach Mike Etzell pledged to keep growing his beard until his boys won.

Friday afternoon, the Wolves pulled off one of the great upsets in prairie history, and Mike’s wife, Kristi, is on her way with the clippers.

Now, Coupeville and South Whidbey, schools separated by a fairly short drive and united by many players and coaches having competed together, have played numerous times over the decades.

Friday produced one of the more stunning results in the long rivalry, however, as Coupeville, which came in at 0-12, stormed from behind to topple a 13-1 Falcons squad, scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh to claim a 4-3 victory.

The turn of events has major repercussions across the North Sound Conference.

For one, it gives the Wolves a huge shot of confidence as they head into three-game series with Sultan and Granite Falls, the teams they’re fighting with for the final NSC playoff slot.

Plus, the unexpected ding drops South Whidbey to 10-2 in league play, knocking it two games back of league-leader Cedar Park Christian, which is 12-0 after nipping King’s 1-0 Friday night.

The two schools close the regular season with a three-game clash Apr. 22-26, and now South Whidbey will have to sweep the series if it wants to win a league title.

While a rebuilding Coupeville hardball squad hasn’t been able to match last year’s team, which went 15-6 and missed the state tourney by just a game, this group of Wolves has fought hard day in and day out.

They’ve been close to a win before, falling a run shy against King’s and Lynden Christian, but Friday they reached nirvana thanks to their most complete performance of the season.

Senior pitcher Matt Hilborn was humming on the mound, the defense was air-tight, and, for the first time all year, the Wolves got big hits in crucial moments.

The four runs is a season-high, and they came at the beginning and at the end.

Down 1-0 headed to the bottom of the first, Coupeville got lucky, then made dang sure that luck held up.

Freshman Hawthorne Wolfe rifled a one-out shot into deep left, bouncing the ball off a Falcon glove, before motoring into second thanks to the error.

If he got a little help, the next hitter, senior Jake Pease, needed none.

Picking his pitch, he crushed the ball into the gap between right field and center, the ball crashing hard to the Earth for an RBI double and causing CHS coach Chris Smith to jump a solid five feet in the air, fists pumping.

The Wolves didn’t stop there, either, as Pease moved to third on a passed ball, then bolted for home when another throw evaded the Falcon catcher.

The throw was close, but Pease was quick, on target, and agile enough to get under the tag by a sizable margin, putting his squad ahead.

CHS almost pulled off the same play a pitch or two later, but this time the Falcons recovered fast enough to nail Dane Lucero at the plate as he tried to scamper home on yet another passed ball.

From there the game became a war of attrition, with neither squad able to pull away.

South Whidbey pushed a run across in the second to knot things up, then snatched the lead in the fourth on an RBI double of its own.

But the damage could have been worse.

Wolfe came up huge, ending the inning, and snuffing the rally, by kicking off a fiery double-play.

Sprinting across center field, the fab frosh yanked down a long fly ball for out #2, then spun and nailed a Falcon straying off the bag at second base for out #3.

The play drew a huge roar from the biggest crowd Coupeville baseball has drawn all season, but it was just one of many quality defensive gems for the Wolves.

CHS catcher Gavin Knoblich threw out two would-be base-stealers, delivering lightning bolts which zipped across the field, landing square in the waiting mitt of second-baseman Daniel Olson.

The throws were flawless, even though one almost took out Hilborn, who dropped down on the mound a little later than normal, and the tags were applied with precision.

“Oh, I liked those,” Chris Smith said afterwards. “I liked those a lot.”

When his defense wasn’t stepping up, Hilborn was rearing back and firing BB’s, whiffing six and keeping the Falcons at bay.

And yet, as well as the Wolves were playing, they were still losing.

It would have been an honorable loss, full of small “moral victories,” yes, but another loss in a season chock full of them.

Except Mike Etzell’s beard was itching to get clipped, and the longtime diamond guru, clapping like a madman down in the first-base coach’s box, willed a miracle.

The bottom of the seventh, playing out under cloudy skies, will go down as one of the great moments in prairie diamond history.

It started with Olson lashing a lead-off single right back up the middle, the ball kicking wickedly, dirt flying everywhere.

And it only got better from there.

Knoblich made it two straight hits, launching a ball down the right field line.

The orb hung in the air for an eternity, debating whether it wanted to go foul or stay fair, then made the correct call, splashing down inside the line before kicking away from the madly charging outfielder.

With runners at the corners, Ulrik Wells, the longest and lankiest of all the Wolves, went low, dropping a bunt towards the third-base side.

With the Falcons intent on keeping Olson glued to third, that gave Wells, long legs churning, time to barrel across the bag at first with an infield single, and suddenly, the Falcons were in a very, very bad place.

Bases juiced, no one out, Wolf fans going berserk and Lady Luck about to play a key role.

Freshman Cody Roberts slapped a chopper back up the middle, and, for a moment, it seemed like the Falcons had won the mini-battle, if not yet the war.

Spoiler: they had not.

Rushing his throw while on the move, the Falcon fielder chucked the ball about 20 feet over his catcher’s head as Olson blew across the plate accompanied by his dad, Paul, bellowing like he had just won the lottery AND discovered he wouldn’t have to pay any taxes.

Give South Whidbey credit.

To a man the Falcons didn’t hang their heads, and immediately got that first out on the next batter, off a hard-hit come-backer to the mound which exploded off of Mason Grove’s bat.

But this dam was ready to bust, and Matt Hilborn was born to set off the TNT.

From the moment he stepped on the CHS diamond four years ago, he has been at the forefront of Wolf baseball.

No matter where his coaches have played him, and he has ended up at almost every position at some point, he has excelled, and he has done it with grace and quiet confidence.

Through good games and bad, through fun seasons and rough ones, Hilborn has upheld the tradition of guys like Hunter Smith, Jake Tumblin, and Brad Haslam.

Come hard every day, every play. Never back down. Ever.

He has received All-League honors. Team awards. Praise from his coaches. All justified.

But Hilborn has always seemed to me to be a self-contained player.

He never seems to be playing for personal glory, or for momentary cheers.

Instead, without fanfare or chest-beating, he’s played the long game, carving out his place in prairie diamond history.

A lot of this is a guess. I don’t know Matt away from the athletic field, have never spoken to him.

But I have watched his career unfold, across multiple sports, in games played in Coupeville and in far-flung rival outposts, and I believe Hilborn deserved the moment he got at a little before 6 PM Friday.

It was one swing, which produced a long, arcing cannon shot to deep center, a note-perfect sac fly which plated Wells, won a game and sent his teammates, his fans, and his support crew into pandemonium.

In a season of struggle, it was a nice grace note.

A win earned by a team which has never given up, capped by a moment for the scrap book from a young man who has fully earned the spotlight, even if he has never demanded it.

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Coupeville High School freshman Hawthorne Wolfe, circling a ball in an earlier game, cracked a single Wednesday at South Whidbey. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

Seize the moment and build on it.

While they fell 8-3 at South Whidbey Wednesday, remaining win-less on the season, the Coupeville High School baseball squad exited rainy Langley with some positives.

For one, the Wolves, who have struggled mightily to push runs across, tied their season-best output, and did it by getting key hits at the right moment.

Also, while Coupeville is now 0-8 in North Sound Conference play, 0-12 overall, it once again pushed a strong team and made them play the full seven innings.

South Whidbey is off to the best start in program history at 13-1, and at 10-1 in league play sits just a half-game off of state power Cedar Park Christian (11-0, 13-1).

And yet, through the first two games of a three-game set (the series wraps Friday in Coupeville), the Wolves have been competitive with the Falcons.

Wednesday, CHS fell behind 7-0 after three innings, before scratching its way back into the game.

South Whidbey put two runs on the board in the bottom of the first, with the big blow coming off of Kody Newman’s bat, then tacked on five more in the third.

Using a mixture of hits, walks and a badly-timed Coupeville fielding error, the Falcons surged ahead and seemed on the verge of ten-running the Wolves.

But CHS starting pitcher Daniel Olson and reliever Jonny Carlson fought their way out of jams in the fourth and fifth, respectively, both stranding two runners and blanking the Falcons.

Olson induced a ground-out to end his final inning of work, while Carlson got a Falcon swinging to bring a close to his temporary problem.

Freshman Cody Roberts came on in the sixth to get an out, as Coupeville’s pitching trio matched up fairly well with Falcon hurlers Brent Batchelor and Drew Fry.

Coupeville had a shot at scoring way back in the first inning, but couldn’t quite come up with the magic touch.

Matt Hilborn led off the game with a single, but was thrown out on a steal attempt.

Bouncing right back, the Wolves put two more aboard in the inning, thanks to a Jake Pease walk and a Dane Lucero single, only to come up short when Falcon catcher Dexter Jokinen pounced on a ball and threw the hitter out.

After not getting much of anything through the next two innings, Coupeville finally cracked the code, tossing a single run on the board in the fourth, fifth, and sixth.

The Wolves set the table by eking out walks, but for one of the rare times this season, came up with hits in crucial run-scoring opportunities.

Gavin Knoblich got the base-knock in the fourth, Hawthorne Wolfe in the fifth, and Hilborn in the sixth.

It was an especially strong day for the Wolf senior, as Hilborn reached base all four times he stepped to the plate, singling twice and walking twice.

Coupeville entered the day having scored just two runs across four games in April, and was sitting with 10 runs in its first 11 games.

The three-run outburst tied the Wolves showing against Cedar Park back on Mar. 20.

The Wolves and Falcons wrap their series Friday, with Hilborn slated to take the mound for Coupeville. First pitch is 4 PM.

After that, CHS closes the regular season with three-game sets against Sultan (0-7, 0-12) and Granite Falls (1-6, 3-9), with two of three at home in both series.

With four of six NSC teams making the playoffs, there’s a huge gap between the top two teams — CPC and South Whidbey — and everyone else.

King’s (4-4, 5-8) is semi-comfortable in third-place currently, but with seven games left to play, Coupeville could still finish anywhere from third to sixth.

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Sophomore slugger Mollie Bailey swatted three hits Tuesday, as Coupeville High School softball demolished South Whidbey 18-1. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

Nicole Laxton got robbed.

After a lifetime of playing black and blue for her softball sisters, frequently “wearing” pitches like a human ball magnet, the Coupeville High School senior got her revenge Tuesday afternoon.

Turning on a pitch with a stunning ferocity, Laxton crushed an out-of-the-park grand slam to deep left field and…

The umps are blind.

Like the sort of blind that makes Ray Charles seem like he had 20/20 vision.

Despite the ball clearing the fence on the fly, and not bouncing over as softball’s answer to Stevie Wonder ruled, Laxton’s career-best blast went from a bases-clearing tater to a two-run ground-rule double.

File an appeal! Take this to the Supreme Court!! Storm the WIAA headquarters and…

Oh, wait, even with the change, you say Coupeville still beat South Whidbey 18-1?

That the Wolves vanquished their Island arch-rivals for the fifth straight time, and haven’t lost to the Falcons since 2015, when Laxton was still in 8th grade?

That at 3-1 in league play, Coupeville sits alone atop the North Sound Conference after the first tour through their new foes?

Well, OK, fine, I guess we can let this one go. This one time.

Anyway, CHS coach Kevin McGranahan, one of many who saw the round-tripper clear the fence, still gave Laxton a game ball for hitting a homer, and her smile stretched from one end of the prairie to the other.

It was a smile worn by every player on the Coupeville roster, as the Wolves came out of spring break swinging from their heels and launching laser shots to every corner of the field.

Now 5-5 overall on the season, the Wolves sit a half game up on Cedar Park Christian and Granite Falls (both 2-1) in the race for a league title, while South Whidbey (1-2) and Sultan (0-3) need to play catch-up.

Everything worked for CHS Tuesday, from the pitching — Scout Smith scattered three hits across five innings and was never in danger — to the defense, where shortstop Chelsea Prescott was crafting a seasons-worth of web gems in just one afternoon.

Chelsea played an awesome game, with a few great snags on hot ground balls,” McGranahan said.

She wasn’t the only one, as Wolf third-baseman Mollie Bailey pulled a ball off of her shoelaces while on the move, then lobbed it to Veronica Crownover at first to beat the Falcon hitter by a half-step.

Crownover was miss twinkle toes herself, nimbly pulling off a pair of unassisted force-plays at first on balls which skittered down the line.

But while the pitching was solid, the defense was often inspired, and the chatter from the dugout loud and frequent, this was a day for the offense to dazzle.

Coupeville launched 13 hits, with Smith, Bailey, and Laxton whacking doubles, Sarah Wright clobbering a triple, and Crownover launching a three-run home-run to left which soared high enough to catch a ride on a passing Navy jet.

On that one, even the blind ref knew it was out of the park.

The Wolves jumped on the Falcons for a quick three runs in the bottom of the first, and yet almost didn’t get a single one.

With Emma Mathusek dancing at second base and two outs, Wright slapped a bouncer to the third-baseman and the inning was 98.9% done.

Until it wasn’t, as the throw to first sailed wide, Mathusek streaked home, and Coupeville found itself with new life.

“I told you, I told you, never stop running! Never!!” bellowed CHS assistant coach Ron Wright, high-fiving himself with glee in the first base coach’s box as his daughter rolled her eyes ever so slightly.

Back-to-back RBI singles off the bats of Bailey and Crownover made the mistake really sting for South Whidbey, and once let loose, the Wolves couldn’t be stopped.

An RBI double from Smith and an RBI ground-out by Prescott tacked on two runs in the second, but it was the third inning when things really got hoppin’ in Cow Town.

With the wind rumbling across the prairie, even blowing South Whidbey pitcher Melody Wilkie off the rubber at one point, it was prime weather to light a fire using the sizzlin’ Wolf bats.

And they did, as 14 batters strode to the plate in the third, with eight of them eventually coming around to tap the plate.

Bailey, whose family has lived on the prairie since somewhere back around the time of the Crusades (give or take a year or two), started things off by lofting a tricky fly ball high into the swirling air.

Playing like she was working a pool table, stuffing money into her back pocket while fleecing out-of-town rubes, she banked the ball off a passing wind gust, and it crashed in for an artfully-dumped double.

Walks to Crownover and Mackenzie Davis juiced the bags, and then Laxton went yard. No matter what the ump says.

Not that the miscall heard round the prairie ultimately mattered, as it was the kind of joy ride where Laxton ended up coming back around to earn a bases-loaded walk in the same inning, stretching the lead out to 13-1.

Trying his best to keep the score reasonable by limiting how many bases his runners took, McGranahan was tripped up a bit by his big bashers.

With Smith and Prescott aboard after ripping fourth-inning singles, Wright cranked a grass-burner which sliced off part of the third-base bag as it shot down the left-field line.

With their catcher chugging hard into third, both runners had no choice but to go home.

A batter later, with Bailey punching a double to center, the sophomore slugger rolled into second only to discover Wright had stayed locked on third at her coach’s request.

That kept Wright, Laxton, and Bailey tied with three RBI apiece on the afternoon, drawing a brief “hey, now!” from Bailey, and then a grin.

Crownover, for her part, was having none of this, and went to the plate fully intent on collecting RBI’s by any means necessary.

Which meant, in this case, slapping a one-way ticket on the softball and sending it off to shop at the grocery store way up the road.

By the time the ball bounced back to Earth, the Wolf masher had her second home-run ball to add to the Crownover mantle this season, and a team-high four RBI.

Bailey (1B, 1B, 2B) and Smith (1B, 1B, 2B) led the hit parade, with Mathusek (1B, 1B), Crownover (1B, HR), Wright (3B), Laxton (“2B”), and Prescott (1B) all collecting base-knocks.

Davis and Izzy Wells both walked twice, while Coral Caveness, Audrianna Shaw, and Chloe Wheeler also saw action.

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Jaimee Masters teamed with Abby Mulholland Tuesday to pull out a three-set varsity doubles win. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Avalon Renninger flicks another winner.

Tia Wurzrainer reaches high to snare a runaway tennis ball.

Eryn Wood showcases flawless form on her backhand.

Just getting on the court is a win.

The Coupeville High School girls tennis team has been hit by scheduling issues, rain delays, and all manners of roadblocks this season.

So, even though the Wolves fell 4-1 Tuesday to visiting South Whidbey, fighting against buffeting wind and the league’s best team, it was still somewhat of a positive outcome.

While other CHS teams have broken double digits in games played, or are about to do so, the netters have a whopping total of two matches in the books.

The first didn’t come until Mar. 27 against King’s, and then the Wolves promptly went back to waiting, sitting another two weeks before Tuesday’s tilt.

At least the next match will come much quicker, barring any weather surprises, as Coupeville, 0-2 on the season, is scheduled to travel Thursday to Friday Harbor.

Facing off with a powerhouse South Whidbey team, which improved to 3-0 in North Sound Conference play, the Wolves put up a strong fight.

And no one played tougher than the duo of sophomore Jaimee Masters and freshman Abby Mulholland, who rallied for a win at #3 doubles.

After splitting the first two sets, the Wolves held off three match points in a third-set tiebreaker, eventually pulling out a victory to send the remaining fans home happy.

Both Masters and Mulholland came up with big shots down the stretch, forcing the action as the huddled masses prayed for relief from the cold and wind as the clock crept towards 7 PM.

The ticket to head home finally arrived on a perfectly-executed drop shot which bit a chunk off the back line, then skipped merrily away for the match-winning point.

 

Complete Tuesday results:

 

Varsity:

1st Singles — Genna Wright lost to Fariss Jokinen 6-3, 6-4

2nd Singles — Jillian Mayne lost to Ashley Ricketts 6-0, 6-1

1st Doubles — Tia Wurzrainer/Avalon Renninger lost to Mary Zisette/Allison Papritz 6-2, 6-1

2nd Doubles — Eryn Wood/Emily Fiedler lost to Ainsley Nelson/Elizabeth Simmons 6-3, 6-3

3rd Doubles — Jaimee Masters/Abby Mulholland beat Oliana Stange/Erin Brewer 6-4, 6-7(5-7), 13-11

 

JV:

4th Doubles — Elaira Nicolle/Wood lost 8-5

5th Doubles — Noelle Daigneault/Katelin McCormick lost 8-1

6th Doubles — Maddy Andrews/Mary Milnes lost 8-1

7th Doubles — Cecelia Camarena/Cassidy Holmes lost 6-3

8th Doubles — Daigneault/McCormick lost 7-1

 

To see more photos from Tuesday’s match, pop over to:

https://www.johnsphotos.net/Sports/Coupeville-Tennis-2018-2019/GT-2019-04-09-vs-South-Whidbey/

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CHS freshman pitcher Cody Roberts (left) and head baseball coach Chris Smith survey the action in a recent game. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

After awhile, the games start to blur together into a familiar pattern.

The Coupeville High School baseball squad — young, hungry and scrappy — hangs with more-seasoned teams three, sometimes four or five, innings.

But, ultimately, a season-long offensive funk makes life tough, and when you’re hanging by a thread all the time, any mistakes are greatly magnified.

It’s a scenario which played out one more time Monday afternoon, as visiting South Whidbey rode a 2-hit, 14-strikeout performance from pitcher Ethan Petty to send Coupeville to a 12-0 loss.

The Island rivalry rumble, the first in a three-game set this week between teams headed in opposite directions, drops the Wolves to 0-7 in North Sound Conference play, 0-11 overall.

South Whidbey, which is a half step behind Cedar Park Christian in the battle for a league title, improves to 9-1 in league, 12-1 overall.

That’s the best start in program history.

Monday’s game, which played out partially in a driving rainstorm, was just 3-0 through four innings, but even then, it was largely a one-sided affair.

Petty retired the first 11 Wolf hitters, whiffing nine of them, and wasn’t touched until CHS pitcher Dane Lucero looped a two-out single which dropped in over the head of a backpedaling Falcon infielder.

The Falcon junior slightly raised an eyebrow at seeing his perfect game go bye-bye, then immediately rebounded with strikeout #10, effectively ending any hopes the Wolves might have had.

With a little help from catcher Dexter Jokinen and shortstop Kody Newman, Petty gunned down nine straight batters after Lucero’s base-knock.

Newman went to his knees to spear a liner off of Daniel Olson’s bat, while Jokinen threw off his mask and scrambled to haul in a high, arcing Bryce Payne foul ball right in front of the chain link fence.

Down to their final out, the Wolves finally put their second runner aboard, when CHS catcher Gavin Knoblich beat out an infield chopper for a single.

But that was it for Coupeville — two hits spaced far apart, no walks, and little offensive momentum.

Lucero kept his team in the game for the first hour, scattering hits and coming up big to blunt Falcon rallies in the second and fourth inning.

South Whidbey got the only run it would need when first-baseman Brent Batchelor tore the hide off the ball with a booming RBI single to left in the top of the first.

The Falcons picked up two more runs in the third, courtesy a bases-loaded walk and an RBI ground-out, but it could have been worse.

Twice, Lucero danced with the devil in the pale moonlight and lived to tell about it, escaping identical jams.

He had runners at second and third with two outs in both the second and fourth, but coaxed a fly-out to center-fielder Hawthorne Wolfe to end the first trouble, and a ground-out to Shane Losey to snuff the second.

The dam finally broke in the top of the fifth, as the Falcons jumped on a rash of Coupeville errors to plate four more runs.

South Whidbey tacked on yet another five across the final two innings against the Wolf bullpen, but there were a few bright spots for Coupeville in the late going.

Wolfe, who made solid contact at the plate in all three of his appearances and was the lone CHS player to not whiff, had a nice over-the-shoulder snag while on the run in center.

His fellow freshman, pitcher Cody Roberts, picked up the other two outs in the seventh inning by flinging strikeouts.

The final out came on a nasty slider which dove with an unexpected ferocity, causing the Falcon slugger to rip out most of his back muscles in a vain attempt to catch up with the pitch.

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