May 10, 2014 in Washington Voices

Freeman Scotties coming off magnificent season

Steve Christilaw
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Freeman first baseman McKabe Cottrell makes a diving stop and turns to make a play at first Tuesday in a game against Lakeside at Freeman High School.
(Full-size photo)

The Freeman Scotties started the 2013-14 school year with an incredible run in one sport and look to finish the year with the same flourish.

Freeman rolled to its first State Class 1A football championship and an undefeated season. The Scotties aren’t undefeated in baseball (the team lost a nonleague game with Cashmere and another over spring break to Class 2A Ellensburg), but look to wrap up an undefeated league season today against Kettle Falls.

“If we sweep these last two games we’d be a perfect 18-0 (in the Northeast A League) and I don’t know if that’s been done around here,” coach Chad Ripke said.

The Scotties already own the top seed into next week’s Bi-District playoffs and are assured a berth into the first round of the state tournament, The only thing to be determined in next week’s playoff games is seeding for the four teams the NEA and Caribou Trail League send on to state.

Heading into the playoffs, Freeman has three standout starting pitchers – just the commodity a team looking to go deep into the postseason needs.

Junior No. 1 starter Jacob Phipps boasts a 6-0 record with a 1.42 earned run average and picked up a pair of saves in relief. Freshman left-hander McKabe Cottrell is 5-0 in league, 5-2 overall, and boasts an ERA under 1 and averages better than a strikeout per inning. No. 3 starter Ian Johnston is 4-0 with a 2.16 ERA.

As a team, the Scotties boast an ERA of 1.97.

“That’s three strong starting pitchers,” Ripke said. “My No. 3 starter, Ian, would be a No. 1 starter for most of the teams in our league.”

Handling the pitching staff is the job of sophomore catcher Jack Paukert, who boasts a batting average of .417 heading into the final weekend of the regular season.

“That spot really suits Jack and he does a good job behind the dish,” Ripke said. “He is the kind of kid who has a chance to play at the next level.”

The team’s leading hitter is freshman J.T. Neely, son of assistant football and baseball coach Kelly Neely. The team’s second baseman, Neely owns a .485 average with 13 runs batted in and 16 runs scored.

What has the coach most excited is the fact that only two Freeman starters are seniors.

“I have four seniors on my roster and two of them are starters,” he said. “I have eight freshmen – and they never lost a game playing middle school baseball – and they never allowed a single run all season a year ago. The middle school team is undefeated again this year and our junior varsity is having a great season.”

The key to this year’s success came over the summer.

“I took back the Single-A American Legion program a couple years ago and our Legion team last year got to the state finals,” he said. “They were very focused on this year and a lot of them were working out at the indoor facility we have here, which we are very blessed to have.”

With Ripke in charge of the summer program, players had continuity with the high school program – playing with the same system, the same language, the same expectations.

“They learn the system and can have a lot of confidence in it,” he said. “And they’re dedicated to the program. With most teams, as soon as the game is over they take off their uniforms and take off to hang out with their friends. Here, we routinely have six or seven kids just hanging out in the dugout rehashing the game or just talking about baseball. I have to send them home.”

The Legion baseball program is doing so well that Ripke will field two teams this summer – a Single-A and a Double-A team.

Compared to a high school baseball program, that’s more than a season’s worth of games played during the summer season.

“That’s huge,” Ripke said. “Last year our Legion team was 30-8. That’s almost two years of varsity games in one season, and for our middle school kids, who play 10 games a season, that’s four years’ worth.

“That’s why we have freshmen who can come in and challenge for a starting position right away, and who can be productive once they earn it.”

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