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High School  | General  | 2/26/2021

Bainbridge set to bring it in PGHS NW

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Nathan Deschryver (Perfect Game)

Bainbridge High School enjoys a unique and beautiful setting in the Pacific Northwest, occupying a parcel of land on Bainbridge Island, Wash., which sits about a half-hour ferry ride to the west of downtown Seattle.

The Seattle area has long been home to many of the top prep baseball programs that, in turn, make their home in the Perfect Game High School Northwest Region.

As the name implies, the region covers a spectacularly scenic area of the country that includes the vast expanses of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. Those states often consist of nothing more than “miles and miles of miles and miles” as the saying goes, with not a whole lot of people populating them.

So it makes sense, we should guess, that the best high school baseball talent is going to be found in the more populous metropolitan areas and larger cities that line the Pacific Coast in Oregon and Washington. And as the PGHS Preseason Top 50 National Rankings attest, there is no need to look any further east than the Seattle Metro area to find the best the PGHS NW Region has to offer.

The Bainbridge Spartans are looking to open their 2021 season sometime in late April, a starting date that gives begrudging acceptance to the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from being brought under control in these United States of America.

But when that newest of all new beginnings does in fact arrive, the Spartans will take the field occupying the No. 37 position in the PGHS Preseason Top 50 and also as the No. 1-ranked team in the Northwest Region.

Geoff Brown is set to kickoff what is technically his third season as head of the Spartans’ program in 2021. But with the 2020 campaign unable to get off the ground due to COVID, this will be only the second season he will actually manage the team.

There is no trepidation, or not openly, anyway; Brown is coming into 2021 with the sense he has a pretty good feel for this team. He had spent a couple of years as head coach at Ingraham HS in Seattle, a fellow member of the prominent Metro Baseball League, and had coached against Spartans’ teams that he realized were pretty darn talented at the time; he is also a native of the Seattle area.

Bainbridge administrators approached Brown following the 2018 season, told him they were looking for a new head coach and asked if he would be interested, so he decided to take a look; he liked what he saw.

“I knew the type of talent they had over on the island and then when I actually got here that first season we were pretty loaded with young talent,” Brown told PG during a telephone conversation on Feb. 25. “...I was like, man, this is going to be a fun three or four years, and then last year COVID hits.

“We were slated to be the top state contender with the type of pitching we had (and) the kind of hitting we had; in my first year we went 16-7 with loaded young talent,” he added. “Going into this year we’re slated to kind of be that same type of deal.”

Indeed, they are. When looking at the top prospects that dot this Bainbridge roster, the first thing that jumps off the page is the talent and the depth of the pitching staff.

It’s a veteran group that features four go-to seniors and one electrifying junior, each of whom has D-I and even professional potential.

The senior class is led by 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-hander/outfielder Nathan Deschryver, an alumnus of the 2020 PG National Showcase in Hoover, Ala., and a two-time PG all-tournament selection in 2020. He is a Gonzaga signee ranked No. 278 nationally (No. 5 in Washington) who produced a 92 mph fastball at the National while also throwing 95 mph from the outfield.

Right-hander/first baseman Kai Francis (t-500/9, Gonzaga), righty/middle infielder Jasiah George (t-500/10, Washington) and another right-hander, Angel Maldonado (t-1000/45, uncommitted) are other seniors who will be looking for innings in the spring. The top senior non-pitcher Brown has returning is outfielder/third baseman Owen McWilliam (t-1000/68, Pacific).

“They have all kind of grown up together and played together since they were 7, 8, 9 years old,” Brown said of his upperclassmen. “I would say it definitely starts with that senior class; the pitching staff kind of speaks for itself. They’re all highly-recruited guys and now, looking at it, there’s a lot of interest in the MLB Draft with some of these guys.”

It’s true that the seniors will carry the load for the Spartans this season, but they won’t be alone out there, either. Enter into the conversation the through-the-roof talents of junior Ian Ritchie Jr (he also goes by JR) and the picture becomes complete.

Ritchie Jr., a 6-foot-2, 185-pound hard-throwing right-hander/infielder, is a UCLA commit ranked the No. 11 overall prospect (No. 1 in Washington) in the class of 2022.

He was a six-time PG all-tournament team performer in 2020, including at the PG WWBA World Championship (Jupiter) in Fort Myers, Fla., in October where he delivered a 96 mph heater while pitching for the Canes National/Mets Scout Team; lefty/first baseman Zach Duffy (Follow) is another junior who’ll look to contribute.

While discussing the guys who comprise the core of his roster, Brown was quick to point out that the thing that stands out most is that they’re all just really good kids, and that’s what makes coaching fun. They work hard and they have fun while they’re putting in the work and, best of all, they’re all highly competitive.

“That’s all you can really ask for out of your high school kids; you want them to compete,” he said. “Like everyone, when we set our goals the first one usually is (winning) a state championship, and then it’s a league championship. But with a lot of these guys it’s, hey, we want to do anything we can to help the team win; that’s kind of where it starts.”

There was some controversy surrounding the Bainbridge Spartans over the winter, although it arose through no fault of their own. The team was invited to perform at the prestigious USA Baseball National High School Invitational in Cary, N.C., at the end of March, but the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) had to re-adjust it athletic calendar due to COVID-19, which resulted in Bainbridge’s season not starting until April 26.

Because the NHSI would now be a preseason tournament, the WIAA ruled that the Spartans couldn’t attend because the extra two weeks of practice and a week worth of games they would get in Cary would give them an unfair advantage over the state’s other programs.

The ruling caused quite an uproar – only one other Washington school, Puyallup HS in 2015, had ever been invited to the event – but, ultimately, it didn’t matter when USA Baseball cancelled the 2021 NHSI just last week.

So now the Spartans can look forward to a season competing in the rugged 16-team WIAA Metro League, one of the biggest leagues member-wise in Washington. Brown grew up in the league as a player and is now coaching in it, so his familiarity with, knowledge of, and allegiance to it is unmatched.

The conference is divided into three divisions but each team plays all of the other teams once and playoff seeding is determined by overall records. The playoff is basically a big double-elimination tournament where anything can happen.

“We know with baseball, anybody can win on any given day,” Brown said. “You could have the most talented team; you could go undefeated during league (play) and all of a sudden you could go two-and-barbeque in the Metro playoffs. It’s arguably one of the hardest tournaments to get out of to get to the state tournament. It’s a challenge.”

Brown feels like having had their spring high school season taken away from them a year ago made it all the more beneficial for his top guys to get out and play at PG events last summer and fall. The time spent on the field at national-level PG WWBA tournaments and showcases not only allowed them to keep their skills honed but also provided valuable exposure.

“Just handling the type of pressure that it is to perform at that high of level definitely helps them going into their high school season,” Brown said. “A lot of kids look at their high school with that neighborhood pride...and by doing all that national stuff it just kind of brings that confidence coming into this year.”

Students at Bainbridge HS have been involved in hybrid learning this school year but it's expected they will be back in the classroom full time next month. Brown was able to spend a decent amount of time with his players during the fall and winter, largely because he runs a facility on the island where they can come in and hit and get their throwing in. But needless to say, they’re ready to get back together for the real thing.

“It’s one thing when you get to play with your summer team and it’s fun, but for some reason when you put your high school uniform on, it’s like they turn it up a notch,” Brown said. “It’s that pride for your neighborhood and a lot of kids really take pride in that. They want to win that state championship for their neighborhood, and I’d say they’ve been chomping at the bit for two years now.”

Brown, a left-handed pitcher, was selected in the 23rd round of the 2007 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Royals out of Jackson High School in Mill Creek, Wash. but didn’t sign, and went on enjoy a fine four-year career at the University of Washington.

After his days as a Husky were complete, he signed with the Dodgers as an undrafted free agent and played five years in the minor leagues, reaching the high-A level. Although Brown just recently celebrated his 32nd birthday, he has already experienced baseball on a lot of different levels.

When he is finally able to get his team together for the first time in the coming weeks, Brown’s message to them will be one that is equal parts small and big picture.

He’ll talk about the expectations that await them, both inside and outside the program, about the possibility of winning the school’s first WIAA state championship (the Spartans were 3A state runners-up in 2009); he might even mention the fact that a mythical PGHS Northwest Region championship is there for the taking.

That’s the small picture his message will convey. The bigger picture goes deeper and deals with the lessons learned from living an entire calendar year in the throes of a deadly pandemic and the need to be appreciative of and thankful for the joy each new day will ultimately bring, if they allow themselves to embrace it.

“For me, talking with the boys, it’s just enjoy the moment; enjoy your time together,” Brown said. “Hopefully, in their lifetime, they’ll never really experience anything like they just went through with not having a season and dealing with this pandemic...

“For a lot of these seniors, it’s the last time a lot of these guys will ever play together, and it’s all about enjoying the moment and living in the moment...and live each day to the fullest.”