LACEY – Don Heinze didn’t need a crystal ball to look into the future of the Northwest Christian baseball program following his first year as the Navigators’ head coach in 2006.
The potential of the team was right in front of his eyes following a tough-luck loss at the district tournament.
The Navigators had just played their final game of the season. As coaches and players were saying their goodbyes, Heinze grabbed his five freshman players and asked a parent to take a group photo.
“I thought, ‘When these guys are seniors, I think we’re going to have something special here,’ ” Heinze said.
Flash forward three years to the present. Those five freshmen are now seniors and have, indeed, helped make something special for the Navigators in 2009.
They’re South Sound’s lone undefeated baseball team at 20-0, and will play in their second straight District IV Class 2B championship game at 6 p.m. today against Napavine at Chehalis’ Bearcats Baseball Stadium.
If it rains today, there’s a chance the game could be moved to Adna for an earlier start.
“I honestly feel this year with these kids, they’re very motivated,” said Heinze, now in his fourth season at Northwest Christian. “They’re self-motivated. … I’ve watched them go out and work hard.”
Northwest Christian is accustomed to having success since the program started nine years ago. The team has won five league titles – including this season – but last year was the first time the Navigators made it out of district and into the state tournament.
The 2008 team finished fourth at state, losing to state powerhouse DeSales, 5-3, in the semifinals, and to Asotin, 11-9, in the consolation final.
Those losses in Yakima were one of the motivating factors for this season’s team. Heinze said he figures both of those programs will be back in the state's final four tournament in Yakima. Asotin defeated DeSales, 10-0, for the District 9 title over the weekend.
“We were all really motivated from last year,” said pitcher/shortstop Nathan Burres. “Everyone remembers last year and losing to DeSales. We all want to get back there and give it another shot.”
“Everyone who went with us last year is just as pumped,” Ryan Heinze said. “We’re all really excited.”
With all but three players back from last year, expectations were high. And the team has delivered.
Eleven of the Navigators’ 20 wins have come by the 10-run mercy rule, and the team has defeated teams that are one or two classifications higher.
The batting order is solid one through nine. Northwest Christian had nine players on the Pacific 2B all-league team, led by league co-MVP Ryan Heinze. The senior first baseman – also the coach’s son – sports some impressive statistics. He set a league and school record with six home runs, has a school-record 33 RBI, has an .879 slugging percentage and is batting .448. He will play baseball at San Diego Christian College next season.
“We have a good combination of a lot of people stepping up,” said Burres, a senior. “The lineup is really balanced. If we don’t get hits from the top (of the lineup), we get hits from the bottom. It varies from game to game.”
Burres and freshman Nick Mailhot have combined for 13 wins on the mound.
Burres is the reigning state player of the year in 2B, but he has been dealing with elbow tendinitis in his pitching arm the past few weeks.
Even though he doesn’t have the eye-popping stats he had a year ago, he still earned first-team all-league honors and is coming around to be at full strength just in time for the playoffs.
In the Navigators’ 6-2 win over White Pass in Saturday’s opening-round District IV game, Burres pitched a five-hitter to improve to 7-0. And he went 2-for-3 with two RBI in the 12-6 semifinal win over Pe Ell.
Northwest Christian already has clinched a state regional berth. If the Navigators win tonight, they will be the district’s No. 1 seed into the state regional and will play at Mossyrock on Saturday.
Should the Navigators lose, they will be the district’s No. 2 seed and will travel to Anacortes.
“They’re not going to be just happy to make it (to the state finals) this time,” Don Heinze said. “I think their focus is driven more toward a state championship.”
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473