This dogpile looked familiar.
When Community Colleges of Spokane closer Reed Harrington’s fastball smacked into the leather of catcher Justin Lutz last week in Pasco, it retired a Columbia Basin hitter and signaled the Sasquatch’s first Northwest Athletic Conference East Region title in 14 years.
Navy blue-clad players tossed their hats into the air in jubilation as they charged the mound, piling onto the Boise State-bound pitcher who’d just recorded his NWAC-best 11th save.
Before he was cooled off with a celebratory Gatorade bath, second-year CCS head coach Bryan Winston took in the memory-evoking scene.
Winston was an All-East Region infielder on the last Sasquatch team to win the league in 2005, concluding his sophomore regular season in similar dogpile fashion.
So was assistant coach Ryne Webb.
This is what Winston, who ended his college career at Gonzaga, envisioned for the program when handed the reins.
But Winston – known to a few players as “Winny” – had already help raise the standard.
CCS recorded a program-best 37 wins and took third at the NWAC Tournament last season, but the Sasquatch finished a game shy of winning the once-elusive East Region crown.
Now the seventh-ranked Sasquatch are aiming for their first NWAC Tournament title since 1989.
CCS ( 29-15) opens tournament play Thursday at Lower-Columbia College in Longview, Washington, against either Edmonds or Big Bend, who play Sunday.
“This is a talented group that’s really bought into the team aspect,” said Winston, who recently earned his second straight East Region Coach of the Year honor. “At a two-year school that’s tough to do, because they want to move on to a bigger school.”
They’re doing that, too.
CCS, which plays in a rare wooden-bat league, has maintained its tradition of sending players to NCAA Division I, NCAA Division II and NAIA programs.
Five players from this year’s squad have signed with four-year schools, including Harrington, outfielder Christian Padilla (Boise State), pitcher and Mt. Spokane graduate Marcus Cain (Gonzaga), outfielder and Shadle Park graduate Jadan Vandervert (Montana State-Billings) and slugger Mitch Dean (Montana State-Billings).
Dean ranks fourth in the NWAC in home runs (seven).
CCS is still being paced by local talent, a primary recruiting goal of Winston, a Richland native who started out as an unpaid assistant nine years ago.
Six of the Sasquatch’s nine all-conference selections are from Spokane, including Cain, utility player Jordan Summers (Lewis and Clark), infielder Jermaine Ducham (Lewis and Clark), infielder Brenden Duncan (North Central), pitcher/infielder McKabe Cottrell (Freeman) and pitcher Cameron Liss (Ferris).
Winston points to a rich baseball culture in Spokane, which features West Coast Conference power Gonzaga, Northwest Conference champion Whitworth, competitive area club teams and the Spokane Indians of the Northwest League.
Winston also has a way of selling the area to out-of-town recruits.
“The rest of the teams in our league are in very small and rural towns, but here in Spokane you can do a lot of things in the city,” Winston said. “And you’re just miles away from places you can hunt and fish. It’s the best of both worlds.”
His players agree, but they’re more interested in the culture Winston has helped cultivate in a short amount of time.
Sophomore infielder Levi Brenneman considered walking away from baseball after a redshirt season two years ago, wondering if he’d carve out a significant role. He said Winston convinced him to stick around.
A year later, the Kalispell product finished his redshirt freshman year hitting .307.
“With (Winston) and our coaches, it’s just a really relaxed environment,” Brenneman said. “But it’s competitive. We know we need to show up and do our best, but don’t feel the pressure.
“They don’t get mad, and if they do, its for a good reason.”
Lutz, an all-conference talent from Snoqualmie, Washington, agreed.
“The coaches put it on us to get better,” Lutz said. “Winston is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had.
“This program is definitely trending upward.”