Vikings baseball starts with a bang | Memorial tribute to Jim Passer at opening game

by Jefferson Freeman

Orcas High School senior

The first week of the Orcas Island baseball season saw the Vikings matching up with two 1A opponents as well as Sound Christian Academy.

The Vikings managed to win two of those games as they advanced to 2-1 ahead of their potential league-deciding clash with Mount Vernon Christian.

Opening day was against Mount Baker, a familiar foe after the Vikings managed a comeback win against the Mountaineers on basketball’s opening night months ago. More importantly, however, it was the Jim Passer memorial game. Passer had been a coach for many years and a figurehead of Viking baseball for even more. With his family members in attendance and pre-game memorial services, this game was for Coach.

The Vikings didn’t wait around in that game and after blanking the opponents in the first inning, the bats got their first opportunity of the season and took advantage. Three of the first four Viking hitters scored to give Orcas the early lead. The second would be the only quiet inning as the Vikes went three up three down. They got right back at it after that though, as Eddie Cunningham and Moose Kinsey led off and each scored their second run of the day.

Up 6-0, the offense was coming naturally and it kept coming with a 2-out rally in the fourth inning that scored two more Viking runs. Mount Baker finally answered in the fifth to cut it to 8-2 but Orcas Island kept cruising putting up 4 more runs over the next two innings to seal a 12-2 victory on opening day.

There were a lot of players who deserved recognition for their performances. Hayden Shaefer and Cunnigham both hit 1.000 on the day, while Jefferson Freeman led with three RBIs. Off the hill, Joe Stepe started and got the win as he struck out five batters in his two innings. Shaefer would take over from him and throw another two blank innings with 3 K’s while Calder Jones finished the day off with 5 strikeouts.

After a statement win on opening day, the Vikings made the trip south to face the South Whidbey Falcons in Langley. Another game and another early explosion from Viking bats as on just the third at-bat of the game Cunningham ripped a two-strike pitch over the head of the left fielder and over the wall to put Orcas up early. The good vibes wouldn’t last quite as long in that game as the Vikings let themselves down defensively allowing Whidbey to score in all of the first four innings.

Despite being down 10-2 it wasn’t over just yet. In the fifth inning, Freeman’s base hit knocked Shaefer in to give the Vikings a little bit of life. Kinsey would come out and hold the Falcon blank for the first time all game and get it back to the Viking bats. Despite two early outs, the top of the order came to life in the final inning as Jones and Joe Stephens came across thanks to a Kinsey double. While things looked up for the Vikings, South Whidbey would respond with five of their own runs in the bottom half of the sixth to put things away 15-5.

While it wasn’t the prettiest of games, Cunningham’s homerun and Jones’ perfect on-base percentage stood out from the Viking books.

With the first loss of the season in the rearview mirror, the Vikings faced the Sound Christian Lions back at their home grounds. The Lions would be the first 1B team the Vikings faced all season and a good early test. However, things got off to a rocky start, as a lot of walks saw Sound Christian go up in the first inning.

After the Vikings looked convincing on offense the Lions came back and responded with 3 runs of their own to give them an improbable lead early. The 4-3 Sound Christian lead would last into the fifth inning, where the Vikings finally got a hint of offense figured out. Jones came around thanks to Cunningham. While that run tied the score there was still baseball left to play. With the game cut short due to the ferry schedule, the bottom of the sixth was the last chance for the Vikings to win the game. A one-out bunt from Freeman got a runner to first, and stealing second and third on close plays set Freeman up perfectly to score on the game-winning base hit from pinch hitter Calvin Saxe. While it wasn’t the game that many had expected the Vikings showed their steel coming back to win a tight affair.

Shaefer was the go-to guy for the Vikings on that Saturday. Coming in as a reliever, the senior threw four scoreless innings while striking out nine. Shaefer picked up his first win of the season off the hill while also leading the Vikings in RBIs with two.

This next week is one of the most important of the season. Road trips to Mount Vernon Christian and Friday Harbor provide league-deciding match-ups in places the Vikings haven’t gone since before COVID.