T-Birds, Bearcats resume rivalry, this time on gridiron

mwochnick@theolympian.comOctober 4, 2013 

Four months have passed since Tumwater and W.F. West met in Yakima for the Class 2A baseball state title, yet Elijah Hill and Garrett Terrell often think about that game.

“I wish I could have it back,” said Hill, a Tumwater junior.

“Whenever I think about Chehalis,” said Terrell, a Santa Clara baseball commit, “I think about the (baseball) title game.”

Hill was the Thunderbirds’ starting pitcher and Terrell the starting center fielder when W.F. West claimed its second state championship in five years.

Expect another playoff-like

atmosphere at 7 p.m. Friday in Chehalis when the schools meet on the gridiron instead of the diamond in a marquee game featuring top 5-ranked teams – No. 2 Tumwater and No. 5 W.F. West – at Bearcat Stadium.

Between the teams and the sports, there are many familiar faces. Twelve players from the rosters for the May 26 baseball state title game will suit up for Friday’s football game. For Tumwater, players in both games include Hill (kicker/punter), Terrell (defensive back), junior Addison Barrett (linebacker), and sophomore defensive backs Easton Trakel and Keenan Milligan. For the Bearcats, quarterback Tanner Gueller, senior receivers Toby Johnson, Alex Cox and Bowe McKay, lineman Anthony Painter, running back JT Yarter and wide receiver Garrett Yarter were on the baseball team as well.

Terrell said a friendship has blossomed off the field with W.F. West players. He and Johnson played this summer on the 18U Thurston County Saints, a summer travel baseball team coached by Black Hills coach Leo O’Leary. On the field, however, it’s all business, no matter the sport.

“It’s the same mentality and the same competitiveness – it’s just a different sport,” Terrell said. “On the field, we’re not so much friends, but off the field, we’re good friends. It’s all competitive, though. That’s what it comes down to.”

Connections go beyond the players. Longtime Tumwater offensive coordinator Jamie Weeks is the T-Birds’ baseball coach. Assistant football coach Rick McGrath was once the baseball team’s head coach and now an assistant.

At W.F. West, Chris Johnson is an assistant coach in both football and baseball.

The sport and the season might have changed, but the opposing names and faces are all too familiar for Weeks, who has been busy game planning for the Bearcats’ 5-2 defense.

Of the T-Birds’ eight losses in baseball last spring, five came to the Bearcats.

A player who hurt the T-Birds in the state title game was Gueller, an all-league infielder. Starting at catcher in the state title game, he went 2-for-4 with a three-run home run, and his power shows up in football, too. He has completed 61 percent of his passes (40-for-66) and accounted for 17 touchdowns (16 passing) in wins over Port Angeles, Archbishop Murphy, Astoria (Ore.) and Columbia River.

Gueller knows this game against a tough Tumwater team sets the tone for the rest of the season. When the T-Birds’ first string plays defense, Tumwater has allowed fewer than nine points a game.

“It’s always a battle,” Gueller said. “You give everything you possibly can to perform at your best. It makes it that much easier to give everything you have. Both teams really push each other until the end.”

That’s been the case the past two football meetings. While Tumwater won both, the margin of victory has been by a combined three points (14-12 at Chehalis in 2011, 21-20 at Tumwater last season).

This might not be the only time the teams face each other this fall. The EvCo and 2A Greater St. Helens League make up District IV, and each league sends its top three to the Week 10 crossover games. The three winners earn state playoff berths.

Tumwater and Capital were last year’s EvCo regular-season champion and runner-up, respectively, and each advanced to the 2A state semifinals at the Tacoma Dome on opposite sides of the bracket. Should that play out again, Tumwater vs. W.F. West, Round 2 could happen in early December.

But that’s too far down the road for T-Birds and Bearcats to think about now. Friday night is first.

“We really don’t want to lose to them in baseball and football,” Terrell said.

Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 mwochnick@theolympian.com theolympian.com/ south-sound-sports-blog

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