Senior spotlight: Kettle Falls baseball

Taylor Newquist
Sports Editor

Kettle Falls baseball's aspirations leading into the 2020 season couldn't have been higher.
The Bulldogs' confidence was at an all time high from their underdog state run in basketball just a few days prior to starting practice. Three of the seniors from the basketball team: Cade McKern, Matt Thompson and Carter Matney were sure their success would carry over to the diamond. They all knew deep down they were better at baseball anyway.
The Bulldogs' fourth senior—Mikey Crumpler—saw the hunger in his teammates. Their run in basketball raised his own, but now it was time for the baseball team to make the same run, if not push it further. The four had made the state baseball tournament as freshman, but just missed out their sophomore and junior years.
“People had hope, but nobody knew if thy were going to make it to state in basketball,” Crumpler said. “We were all happy for them, they had the taste for it again. We had it our freshman year in baseball, but it's almost like we lost it a bit, backtracking two years. It made them hungry and it made me hungry watching them.”
Shortly after getting practices going, head coach Jeff Graves could see the potential in the group he said would probably be the best team he's coached in 24 years. Just as soon as the season started, a statewide closure of all K-12 schools to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus suspended the season until at least April 24. The Bulldogs' focus turned from getting ready to win games, to whether or not they'd get the chance to play another one.
“Hearing school is out at first it's like, 'Oh great we don't have to go to school',” Matney said. “Then you realize it's not a vacation. It's just a lot of time you're missing out with your friends.”
They all were shocked and heartbroken. This was their year that a lifetime of playing ball had led up to.
“Once it happened I wasn't even at school,” Crumpler said. “I just got a text message from friends and called Carter to pick me up, because I needed to get away for a bit. He could tell how depressed I was and he asked me if I was okay.
“Like Cade said, we grew up playing this sport all our life. It's definitely my best sport and I know we could have went somewhere this year.”
To Thompson, the Bulldogs' success may have held no bounds.
“We were always better at baseball,” Thompson said. “It's never ending what we could have accomplished. I think we could have even won a championship, but we'll never know.”
The four had grown up playing together their entire lives, through little league, on all-star teams and then through high school. McKern said they'd probably made more memories together on the baseball field than anywhere else.
“It just turns into a family,” Matney added. “You grow up with these guys and it's just sad we won't get to finish off this last year.”
Currently, the COVID-19 virus continues to spread around the state, with more confirmed cases and an unknown number of unconfirmed cases that are estimated by health officials to be much greater. Still, the WIAA is holding to its original spring championship dates of May 27-30, under the condition that schools return to session on the expected date of after April 24.
“It's frustrating,” McKern said. “You kind of just want a yes or no. A no sucks, but then you can start to get through it and get better, but when you don't know it's frustrating.”

Find the full story in the March 25 issue of the Statesman-Examiner.