It’s an understatement to say the Colville Indians boys teams have had a pretty good year.
How’s this for pressure?
Colville’s third-year baseball coach Blake Sjordal is leading his team into a state semifinal and he’s doing it following the football and wrestling teams winning State 1A titles already this school year.
The Indians (18-2) face Seattle Christian (18-5) at 1 p.m. at Yakima County Stadium on Friday. The winner moves on to the title game on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Sjordal said the friendly motivation for the baseball team started in the winter during the football team’s state championship ring ceremony.
“There were parents, you know, kind of laughing and joking. And, you know, they came up to me to say, ‘Hey, it’s your turn.’ And that was right after wrestling just won their title too. So, you know, they’re like, ‘Hey, it’s your turn, we gotta get that trifecta.’ ”
Sjordal, an assistant coach on the football team, said the comments were made in jest, but it’s something everyone around the program knows – especially since eight of the 14 players on the baseball team were on the state champion football team.
“In the moment, we are just taking it one game at a time and trying to really narrow our focus down,” Sjordal said.
“But it’s kind of always in the back of your head,” he said. “Although, you know, at the end of the day, you got to go out there and just play baseball and the rest will take care of itself. If the stars do align for that, it would be a pretty awesome accomplishment.”
Not to mention that with all the Greater Spokane and Great Northern League teams eliminated, Colville is the biggest Eastern Washington school still alive in a state baseball tournament.
The football and wrestling teams set a precedent, but the success the baseball team has enjoyed this season has been a multiyear project.
Sjordal and his coaching staff took over the program in 2017. The past two seasons, the Indians have finished around the .500 mark and ended with losses in crossover games against a Caribou Trail League team.
This is the first time the Indians’ baseball team has advanced past that daunting task and followed it up with regional round wins to punch a ticket to the final four – including a fourth game and third win this season against perennial Northeast A powerhouse Freeman in the state quarterfinal game.
“It’s a great accomplishment for our program,” Sjordal said.
Colville beat Zillah 9-7 in a first-round game as John Knight drove in two runs and pitched five strong innings. The Indians knocked off the Scotties 8-3 as Jake Lindquist allowed one hit over five innings and Colville rallied for a five-run fifth to take command.
Knight, the all-state quarterback who will play football in the fall for Montana State, is the only athlete to play on the football, wrestling and baseball teams. He passed for 4,299 yards and 42 touchdowns, while running for 475 yards and 14 touchdowns and was state champ in the 182-pound weight class.
Knight played baseball as a frosh but took the last two seasons off to concentrate on tournament wrestling. He’s “filled a void” for the baseball program, according to Sjordal, stepping into the role of a true No. 1 pitcher. His arm strength is evident and he throws a firm fastball, a curve and changeup.
“The biggest thing for him is he just locates extremely well, he just throws with command,” Sjordal said. “He’s going to make players have to hit him to hurt him – he’s not going to give out free bases.
“You know, in high school ball – especially at our level – if you can make make the offense have to manufacture runs it can be challenging to put up a lot of a lot of numbers.”
Sjordal said Knight is a terrific natural athlete, but he’s elite because of his commitment to hard work.
“He has an extremely composed mental makeup on him,” Sjordal said. “He has ice in his veins and the doesn’t get fazed by any stage. I guess at the end of the day, you classify him as a winner.”
It’s far from a one-player team, though.
Sjordal praised more than half his team by name. He called out catcher Grant Michaliszyn – an all-state linebacker – for his toughness and infielder Tayeb Wilson, who will play baseball for Walla Walla CC next year.
“(Success) didn’t just kind of happen,” Sjordal said, mentioning his players bought in to the weight training and summer baseball the staff laid out for them.
“It was success created by the kids,” he said. “It’s just a special group of kids that we are fortunate enough to be a part of and coach and it’s been a pretty, pretty awesome ride for the Colville community so far.”