Pitching, defense lead Eastlake baseball to first conference title

May 20, 2014

By Neil Pierson

It was a birthday celebration worthy of a dog pile.

When Eastlake High School senior pitcher Mick Vorhof struck out Woodinville’s Brent Donlan for the game’s final out, his teammates poured out of the dugout and mobbed him on the mound.

Minutes later, as the teams were clearing the field following the Class 4A KingCo Conference baseball tournament title game, the Eastlake players serenaded head coach Kevin Agnew on his 30th birthday.

It all came together for the Wolves May 15 as they captured the program’s first conference championship with a 3-1 win on Woodinville’s field, the place where Agnew played so many of his high-school games more than a decade ago.

After exchanging hugs and posing for pictures with family members, Agnew reflected upon the journey the Wolves (14-9) have taken to reach the state tournament for the first time since 2003.

“I’m just proud of my guys,” he said. “They really worked hard, and when it got tough, they stuck with it and they never quit on themselves.”

Both Eastlake and Woodinville (14-7) got hot at the right time, pulling some mild upsets in the tourney to reach the title game. Both teams are going to state, which begins this weekend. As the top seed from District 2, Eastlake will play at 1 p.m. May 24 at Art Wright Field in Kent.

The Wolves had to fight through the adversity of a rollercoaster regular season. They never had a winning streak longer than three games, and lost four of six during a stretch in April, capped by a 9-4 defeat to Woodinville.

Still, they managed to finish 7-7 in KingCo games and qualified for the postseason, and it made them better in the long run, Agnew indicated.

“If you aren’t battle-tested and you haven’t been through the bad parts of a season, you don’t know what it’s like to really bounce back,” he said.

“…These kids, they felt the lowest of the low this year, and they never gave up. They just kept playing, kept playing, kept playing, and it paid off tonight with a great performance on the mound and a group of guys behind him that played their tails off.”

Vorhof, the team’s No. 1 pitcher all season, was masterful in the championship game. He scattered five hits and walked none, shutting out the Falcons until the sixth inning.

In the seventh, Vorhof only grew stronger, and actually recorded four of his eight strikeouts in the final frame because one strikeout victim reached base on a wild pitch.

“I was so pumped up knowing that we were so close,” he said. “We took the early lead and it just drove me.”

Eastlake jumped on Falcons starter Alex Worthington at the start of the game. They loaded the bases with three singles in the first inning and didn’t score, but took advantage in the second.

Leadoff batter Mark Whitley hustled down the line for an infield single and moved up on Shaan Kothari’s sacrifice bunt. Vorhof’s seeing-eye single through the left side scored Whitley, and Mitch Augenstein followed with a sharp single to plate Kirk Boe for a 2-0 lead.

The teams spent most of the game creating and denying chances. The Wolves left 11 runners on base, but scratched out an insurance run in the seventh inning. They capitalized on a two-out error as Max Escarda singled, Whitley walked, and pinch runner Nathan Mano sprinted home on reliever Trevor Cook’s wild pitch.

Escarda, one of nine Eastlake seniors, will have a chance to savor a state-tournament trip in his final season.

“This group of seniors has been so much fun to play with – I’ve been playing with them since I was in Little League,” Escarda said. “It’s just been a great experience, and I love these guys to death.”

The Wolves played error-free defense in their first three playoff games, including a 3-0 win over Skyline and a 5-1 triumph over Bothell. It’s the model Agnew set up when he took over the program prior to the 2011 season.

“You can’t say enough about pitching and defense,” Agnew said. “Two runs (allowed) in three playoff games – that’s pretty impressive. It just shows the kind of character and commitment those guys have.”

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