Strong batting and solid defense landed a trio of South Whidbey baseball players on the all-Cascade Conference first and second teams this season.
Voted on by the league’s coaches, senior to-be Ricky Muzzy and just-graduated sluggers Brent Piehler and Mo Hamsa represented the Falcons on the honorary lists. Muzzy was the lone Falcon on the first team, and was one of four players considered for the league’s most valuable player, which went to Cedarcrest’s hurler Adam Davenport.
The Falcons finished as the runners up in the state 1A tournament, losing to Hoquiam 6-4 in the championship game. South Whidbey had a turnaround season marked by a rocky start against the league’s 2A schools before jumping up the conference standings after winning each series against the three fellow 1A teams. Once South Whidbey (8-9 conference, 15-13 overall) reached the postseason, the Falcons went on a tear, losing only two playoff games — one in the bi-district tournament and the state championship.
A big part of that was the team shoring up its defense and gelling on offense, and no one player had a more important role in South Whidbey’s run production than Muzzy.
Piling on runs was not part of South Whidbey’s game. Only once did South Whidbey score double digits, and it was in a one-run loss to Archbishop Murphy. The Falcons averaged 3.9 runs in league games and 4.2 overall, which puts their overall runs scored average in sixth place in the eight-team league.
“I’ve seen the model where you put your fastest guy on base and he’s probably going to score,” said Falcon head coach Tom Fallon.
“That model worked for us in the playoffs,” he added. “If we took an early lead, we were tough.”
Knowing that offense was going to be a game of small ball and opportunity, Fallon seized his in Muzzy. The Falcon junior played shortstop and pitcher, mostly as a closer, and hit in the leadoff spot for South Whidbey.
In the first game of the year, Muzzy was the third batter, a spot that utilized his ability to knock the ball deep. After that opening game, Fallon moved Muzzy to the leadoff to take advantage of his blazing base-running speed.
It worked wonders.
“He’s, on the bases, about as good as I’ve ever seen,” Fallon said.
“I’ve coached a lot of fast guys, but it’s more than the clock,” he added. “It’s getting that jump, reading the pitcher, taking a great lead and never getting picked off.”
Speed served Muzzy well as South Whidbey’s shortstop. He covered a lot of ground to make the play, roaming into the outfield for fly balls, chasing after gap hits and running in on soft-hit grounders.
“He charges the ball so hard and so well, he makes so many hard, very difficult plays, look relatively easy,” Fallon said.
Piehler was South Whidbey’s last line of defense. As the catcher, he was responsible for framing the pitch, organizing the defense for a handful of plays and keeping runners in check. Fallon couldn’t recall more than a couple, if that, of bases that were legitimately stolen, not on wild pitches, on Piehler.
“Nobody runs on him. They know better,” Fallon said. “He just throws guys out. It makes a huge difference in holding teams in check.”
“I think Brent was the best defensive catcher in the league,” Fallon added. “His batting average definitely affected that decision. He struggled a little bit at the plate this year.”
Piehler was South Whidbey’s cleanup hitter in the fourth spot. Relying on a smooth swing with plenty of power, it was often Piehler’s duty to drive in runs. He may not have been as splash as his 2014 campaign, but was effective enough to hold onto the spot all season.
Continuing a string of all-conference-worthy catchers, Piehler followed in the kneepads of Danny Parra, David Woodbury and Aaron Curfman.
Hamsa largely played first base and pitcher. Late in the season, Hamsa’s towering presence on the mound became the go-to starter.
“Halfway through the year he became the number one guy on the mound,” Fallon said. “He chewed up so many innings for us.”
Early on, Hamsa along with most of the Falcon pitchers, struggled with location and gave up a lot of walks. Fallon said he finished the regular season with a 4-4 record, and most of the losses came early in the year against the 2A powerhouses.
“It’s kind of unfortunate for the 1A kids,” Fallon said of the win-loss record consideration in the all-conference voting. “Your stats aren’t going to be as clean as these 2A schools … we’re playing up whereas they’re playing down.”
Hamsa, who was an all-conference football receiver this school year, utilized his size at first base as well. Few throws escaped his reach; high, low, right, left, it didn’t matter.
“Pretty much everything that’s thrown over there, he’s got the wingspan to catch,” Fallon said.