It all happened so fast. A ground ball to second that resulted in a force out, and then a rocket throw to third to nab a runner for the final out.
Then it was all gloves flying into the air and players piling onto each other on the ground.
“It was just pandemonium,” said head coach Derek Bingham.
Lake Washington High’s baseball team had just won the 3A state championship with a 3-2 victory over O’Dea on May 25 at GESA Stadium in Pasco. The Kangs finished their monumental season with a 26-2 record and brought the state hardware back to Kirkland. The Kangs last won the title in 2016.
The locals upped their lead to 3-0 in the top of the sixth inning, but O’Dea closed the gap to 3-2 in the bottom of the inning.
“We just made big plays in big-time moments,” Bingham said of holding onto the lead and snatching the title.
With LW’s Andrew Urrutia on the rubber in the bottom of the seventh with one out and runners on first and second, LW shut the door on O’Dea’s comeback bid with the sterling defense that blasted open the Kangs’ raucous celebration.
After second baseman I-Ly Hsue fielded the grounder and flipped it to shortstop Travis Lee for the force, Bingham said that Lee displayed “extreme awareness and savvy” in knowing that he wasn’t going to get the runner at first. So, he turned toward third and noticed the runner making a wide turn, and fired the ball to Dylan Kennedy, who made the final tag out.
“I practice that throw all the time in pregame and I’ve done that play multiple times in practice as well. The back-door plays. It was just kind of instinctive to make a good throw towards there,” Lee said. “It was crazy. I’ve never pulled that play in games this year, so to finally have it in the biggest game of the year was surreal.”
It was not only rewarding to make the crucial play, but to win the championship with his family — his teammates.
“This group of kids I’ve known since they were 11 years old, and we kind of had a feeling that they might be able to accomplish something really special,” Bingham said. “To see them actually do that and to see that absolute joy and elation on their faces when they got it done — it’s as proud of a moment you’re gonna have as a coach to see guys that work so hard accomplish their goal.”
In the Kangs’ seventh consecutive elimination-game victory, Ricky Koishida and Jose Vizcarra each delivered two hits for the Kangs, who also received an RBI from Hsue, and singles from Nation Wood, Torin Montgomery and Jesus Vizcarra. Jose Vizcarra pitched the first six innings for the Kangs.
“To be honest, it just felt like another game,” said Jose, who went from relief pitcher to starter this year. “Anytime (catcher and brother) Jesus is behind the plate, it’s just another game, and I feel like we’ve been doing this our whole lives.”
Jesus caught three of Jose’s championship-game victories in Little League. Jose knows what pitches Jesus is going to call before he flashes the sign. Now they have a LW state title to share. Jesus was part of the 2016 Kang title team, but has never let Jose wear his championship ring, said Jose with a laugh, noting that now they can tell their kids they won a 3A state title together.
“It’s once in a lifetime you can say you played on a state championship team, and I think were gonna just remember this for the rest of our lives,” Jose said.
In the semifinals on May 24, LW defeated Gig Harbor, 7-0, to clutch the victory and stamp its spot in the final. Oliver Laufman earned the complete-game victory from the mound, Koishida and Lee nailed two hits apiece and Lee had two RBIs, Wood had a double and three RBIs and Montgomery and Jesus Vizcarra also doubled.
After LW’s loss to Mercer Island in the opening round of the KingCo playoffs a few weeks back, the Kang family became even tighter in its goal to survive and advance.
“We made the decision right then that like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna play for each other,’ move forward and we knew the road was gonna be tough,” Bingham said. “But to see it all come to fruition, winning seven straight loser-out games. Honestly, I think that kind of run probably hardened us and made us more prepared for a game like (the final).”
Kangs keep in touch with Bingham and keep track of how their former team is doing when they graduate. At this year’s final, a group of guys from the 2016 team were in attendance. Bingham said the LW program is all about the current, past and future.
It’s a family. LW’s team will graduate 12 seniors, all of whom have secured their bonds to the Kang program.