Winning isn’t everything — but in high school varsity sports, they do keep score and they do keep standings.
It is not often that a squad has the talent to win a league championship, make a deep run into the playoffs and possibly challenge for the state title. So when those teams come along, the players and staff hope to make the most of the opportunity.
For the seniors of the talent-rich 2020 South Whidbey High School baseball team, that chance went up in smoke as the cloud of COVID-19 swallowed up the past spring prep season.
Longtime coach Tom Fallon said his club was “definitely my best team or right at the top with the (second in state) 2015 team.”
The 2020 Falcons returned seven starters from a team that went 18-5 last year, including finishing second to state power Cedar Park Christian in the North Sound Conference with a 12-3 mark.
Fallon lauded the team’s work ethic, chemistry and willingness to buy into a “team-first mentality.”
He said the upperclassmen set the tone for that mindset, teaching the younger players to accept their roles and to understand that no individual needs to seek all the glory.
“The seniors are lead-by-example guys,” Fallon said.
The group has “given everything they have” to the team, he added, which is “all I could ask.”
“The success the last few years and their hunger to make a run shows their commitment to the Falcon program,” he said.
The Falcons’ four seniors — Alex Black, Drew Fry, Dexter Jokinen and Ethan Petty — all suited up and lettered as freshmen for the varsity on a senior-heavy team in 2017. Each has started since.
Strong pitching is the key to success in baseball, and the Falcons featured the league’s best in 2020 in Petty.
Petty is a two-time, first-team all-league selection, including being named the North Sound Conference’s pitcher of the year in 2019. Teamed with junior Brent Batchelor, a two-time, second-team all-conference pitcher, South Whidbey featured the best 1-2 pitching punch in the league.
Black came into last spring with two first-team, all-league awards; third baseman Fry earned first-team honors last spring after being honorable mention as a sophomore; and Jokinen was a three-year starter, handling a pitching staff that threw three no-hitters last year.
Junior Luke Rookstool and sophomore Nick Black also earned league honors.
Now the senior group can only wonder “What if?”
“It is really unfortunate we seniors couldn’t play this year,” Alex Black said. “We’ve always looked forward to this year since we were in Little League. I enjoyed playing ball with these guys, and it sucks that it had to end like this.
“Not only would this had been the last season I got to play with these seniors, but it would’ve been the last year I got to play aside my brother Nick.”
Jokinen said he is disappointed about the canceled season, but “life goes on and I already have over three years of great memories with my teammates.”
Fallon called the senior class as a special group.
Black is “extremely driven” and is “ultimate hustle all the time,” he said. “Alex is one of the hardest offseason workers and developed into one of the vocal leaders of the team.”
Fallon said Petty is “quiet and calm in any situation, (showing) unbelievable poise on the mound.”
“He worked extremely hard in the offseason,” Fallon added.
He called Jokinen “a tough, hard-nosed catcher” that knows how to manage a pitching staff.
“He is a great leader and example for our younger guys,” Fallon said.
Fry is a “complete ballplayer,” according to Fallon.
“He is an unbelievable infielder and filled any role we needed. As a pitcher, he is as solid as a coach can ask for.”
Jokinen said the success of the senior class, which played together on South Whidbey youth teams while growing up and qualified for state in 2012, stemmed from the “expectations that were set when we were freshmen by the upperclassmen and coaches who had made postseason and state runs in the years prior.”
His personal development was helped along by his fellow seniors, coaches and father, “who spent countless hours playing catch, pitching to me (and) hitting grounders.”
The senior group, Jokinen said, was a fun-loving, but highly competitive, bunch.
Black called the group “competitors that have a huge passion for the game.”
“All four of us put in the work in the offseason so we can compete at our highest level come game time,” he said.
“We have all spent countless hours on the field and in the cage on our own time.”
He credits his teammates, parents and brother for his growth as a player and the development of “a great work ethic.”
Fallon said the seniors stuck together through years when the Falcons barely had enough players to field a team and through disappointing postseason results. The setbacks, he said, made them “stronger and more resolved to push their limits.”