BUILDING CHAMPIONS

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  • Casey McCarthy/Columbia Basin Herald Moses Lake graduates (from left to right) Dominic Signorelli, Vance Alvarado, Cody Alvarado, Emmitt Tatum, Chayton Fisk, Josh Williams, Zach Valdez and Evan McLean

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    Courtesy photo Members of the 2012 Riversharks would go on to win a Class 4A state champions for Moses Lake High School in 2019.

  • Casey McCarthy/Columbia Basin Herald Moses Lake graduates (from left to right) Dominic Signorelli, Vance Alvarado, Cody Alvarado, Emmitt Tatum, Chayton Fisk, Josh Williams, Zach Valdez and Evan McLean

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    Courtesy photo Members of the 2012 Riversharks would go on to win a Class 4A state champions for Moses Lake High School in 2019.

Rain falls under the lights at GESA Stadium on a Saturday night in Pasco, Washington. Vance Alvarado stares down Clyde Twitty from the mound, with one out to go. The count is two-two, with a raucous crowd on their feet.

Strike three as Twitty swings at the pitch. The dugout empties as elation fills the air and Moses Lake players and coaches mob together in celebration of the Chiefs’ first state title since 1981. Two men are absent from the mob, as Donnie Lindgren and Greco Signorelli hug for a moment before joining the chaos in a celebration of achieving a goal they’ve worked toward for the past nine years.

Donnie Lindgren grew up in the small town of Tekoa, playing baseball, basketball and football. Idolizing Pete Rose and never being the biggest in stature, Lindgren found success in baseball from a young age and said it’s been his passion ever since.

After graduating from Whitworth University, Lindgen took a graduate assistant coaching job in 1990. His first teaching job in physical education was in Moses Lake, where he has worked as an assistant coach in football and baseball, as well as working as the head basketball coach at Frontier Middle School. Lindgren served as the head baseball coach at Big Bend Community College for 12 years.

Lindgren said coaching, as well teaching physical education, were ways for him to stay involved in athletics.

“Two of my brothers coached me in high school and summer,” Lindgren said. “It’s kind of in our blood. My second oldest brother was a long-time coach. It was just a way to stay involved in the game and give back the same way my coaches gave to me.”

Lindgren was coaching the Vikings at Big Bend in 2010 when Greco Signorelli approached him about putting together a team of young baseball players.

Signorelli helped his dad coach Babe Ruth baseball in 1988 and 1989. After taking a few years off, he came back to coaching around 1994. Signorelli has been coaching ever since, with either one of his own children, or someone he’s known being in the baseball system.

“Donnie and I set out with a goal when we first started coaching together,” Signorelli said. “That goal was to coach these kids to win a state championship.”

Greco came up with the name of the Riversharks for the team, which began as a Moses Lake all-star team, before deciding to step away from league-play. Parents and players both were excited by the idea from the start. Lindgren said he told Signorelli that he was going to approach the team with the same approach that he used with his college team, from drills and fundamentals to mentality. Lindgren would practice with his college players, then turn around afterward with the same practice plan for the youth players.

“I told them, I’m not gonna hold anything back,” Lindgren said. “I’m going to teach them everything I possibly can. They loved it. The parents loved it, and it ended in a state championship.”

The core of those young players on the Columbia Basin Riversharks stuck together for the next nine summers, including: Zach Valdez, Josh Williams, Dax Lindgren, Emmitt Tatum, Dominic Signorelli, Evan McLean, Cody Alvarado and Vance Alvarado. Valdez left the summer teams for a few years before coming back together with the group in high school.

Dax Lindgren said his love for baseball started at a young age, going to practices at Big Bend with his dad, Donnie. Coming together as a group early Dax Lindgren said many of the players already knew each other, having played with or against each other in leagues in town.

“We had high expectations for ourselves even when we were young,” Dax Lindgren said.

Greco’s son Dominic said looking back on the early days playing together reminds him of the movie, “The Sandlot.”

“We just always had that certain group of guys that we always had playing together,” Dominic Signorelli said. “We could always come back to that. And then, getting to know each other, we all just kind of hit it off.”

Cody Alvarado said his passion for baseball came from playing for Lindgren and Signorelli when he was younger. Alvarado said both coaches became people he felt he could discuss anything with, beyond baseball.

“I could tell them anything and hear their opinion and it would just make me feel better,” Alvarado. “They would always lead me to better things, even it was bad things i was talking to them about. They’d always put a positive spin on it.”

Coach Signorelli said, his goal with Lindgren for the team was preparing them for the next level.

“They’ve always been very competitive and represented our community in all the tournaments that we’ve been to over the years very well, and always had tremendous community support behind them,” Greco Signorelli said.

Greco described Donnie as both “a great coach and a great friend.”

“He communicates well with the kids,” Signorelli said. “He has a desire and a passion for what he does. And he’s very good at it.”

Over the next nine summers, the group would win countless tournaments together. The Riversharks became the Columbia Basin Riverdogs, in partnership with an existing team for insurance and scheduling purposes.

The Riverdogs were state and regional champions in 2016. They made many consecutive trips to the World Series, including a semifinal berth in 2017. The ultimate goal remained unchanged however for the group and coaches, a state championship.

Multiple players talked about just how much both Lindgren and Signorelli had taught them over the years.

“Donnie’s really taught everything to all of us that we know, Greco too,” Emmitt Tatum said. “They taught us how to play the game right, how not to play the game, and how to play with class, too.”

“He’s taught me pretty much everything I know, him and my dad, playing baseball,” Dominic Signorelli said. “All the little tips and tricks, and cheat sheets to get going, I owe that all to them.”

In 2018, Donnie Lindgren took over as head coach at Moses Lake High School where the core group, and a number of other players Lindgren and Signorelli had coached in the summer, all played. In his first season at the helm, the Chiefs brought home their first District 6 title since 2014.

The 2018 postseason would end in heartbreak. Just two outs shy of a trip to the 4A state semifinals, Wenatchee’s Seth Storlie hit a walk-off grand slam to end the Chiefs’ season and end their shot at a state championship they’d been working towards since they were nine years old.

That summer, many of those players would make yet another trip to the World Series in New York with the Riverdogs. But their goal remained unchanged. Seven of the eight players from the Riversharks entered their senior year at Moses Lake, with one more shot at it.

The Chiefs took their second-straight District 6 title this year, finishing the regular season 17-3 (16-2), winning 14 of their last 15 headed into the District tournament. Moses Lake was able to knock off some of the chip building on its shoulder from last season, taking down Wenatchee in the district tournament final, 11-1, on their way back to the state tournament.

Four games remained in the way of their longtime dream and goal. 3-1, they took down Hanford to open the 4A state tournament, before a 5-0 win over Richland took them to the semifinal they fell just short of in 2018.

On Friday, May 24, senior Evan McLean threw a gem of a game for the Chiefs, tossing a no-hitter in a 3-0 win over Skyview for a trip to the title game on Saturday night. Seven innings later in the rain, the goal Donnie and Greco set, the goal and dream of these players and community came true.

Moses Lake became 4A state Champions with a 5-3 win over Olympia. In tears, coaches Lindgren and Signorelli hugged their players, their fellow coaches, and their families, culminating a goal he’d worked towards for the last nine years. Both men celebrated a state title with their sons.

“People are gonna think I’m crazy, but, honest to God, we talked about it when they were nine or ten,” Donnie Lindgren said, visibly still emotional from the win a week later. “It’s always been their goal. It’s been our goal. Honestly, I thought we were gonna win it all along. And they did it.”

Greco Signorelli said the next few days said he asked himself, “Did that really happen?”

“You keep waiting on your wife to elbow you in the bed like, ‘Hey, get up,” he said. “It’s real and it’s very humbling. What an accomplishment, not only for the high school, but for our community that has supported us for the last nine years. I’m without words.”

The Chiefs-Riverdogs-Riversharks players still try and come to grips themselves with what they’ve accomplished.

“To think that we accomplished such a big goal we’ve had for so many years, and finally seeing our hard work paying off as a team, it’s crazy,” Zach Valdez said. “It still doesn’t feel real.”

“I still can’t believe it,” Dax Lindgren said. “My friends and everyone keep asking me about and I just still can’t believe it that we won. It’s amazing to me.”

Many of the players talked about their group as a family, including Emmitt Tatum, who said strangers and former players have approached him in public just to congratulate him.

“I love these guys,” Tatum said. “It’s just crazy how long we’ve been playing together, how far we’ve come. We’ve been talking about it so long, it’s just crazy that we did it.”

Eight Moses Lake seniors, including seven of the original Riversharks, capped off their title a week later with graduation ceremonies on June 1 at Lions Field. Most of the Chiefs varsity team will continue their baseball careers this summer, playing with the Riverdogs again or Central Washington Spuds.

Three players, Zach Valdez, Evan McLean and Vance Alvarado have signed on to play at Big Bend next season. Dominic Signorelli is set to play at Boise State. Dax Lindgren is the lone player from the original group returning to the Chiefs next season.

“It’s kind of sad we’re not gonna play together anymore, but I’m glad that we ended on a high note,” Lindgren said.

Playing together with this group, Cody Alvarado said, has created something special he hopes never breaks.

“I’ve seen that group of people every summer,” Alvarado said. “We were always making new memories and growing together. It was nice having them around each year. It’s gonna be a little different now after this year.”

Alvarado said he realizes people will drift apart, but hopes they still connect as they do now when people do come together.

Dominic Signorelli said he believes growing up “like a family” will keep the group together moving forward.

“Donnie said it when we were talking afterwards, ‘Now we’ll always have something in common, because that’s something that you all did together, that was a group effort between all of us, so we’ll always have that to keep us together,’” Dominic Signorelli said.

Greco Signorelli said this group of players have always been a tight knit group and said he thinks they’ll have lifelong friendships.

“They’ll always have that night in Richland,” he said.

Greco Signorelli said coaching this group of players has been some of the toughest, yet most rewarding, moments of his career, watching players he’d coached since they were nine playing together in high school for the last time.

“Senior night was a rough one for me, as well as it was for Donnie,” he said. “Nobody likes to watch their kids grow, but at the same time, we always like to watch our kids keep going. It just happens so fast.”

Coach Lindgren struggled to talk about his players moving on, but was optimistic. Lindgren said he hopes he can keep in contact with most of his players through his sons, Dax and Asher, but said he knows coaches come and go.

“I told them it’s gonna be neat to see them become husbands and fathers,” Lindgren said. “I don’t want to see them go. I’m sure we’ll stay in contact, but they’ve always been supportive and I’ve always supported them. Their parents are my best friends. I told them, we’ll always have this.”

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