Give the NWAACC baseball rankers their due — they called this one pretty spot on.
As the five-day NWAACC tournament gets under way Thursday at Lower Columbia’s Story Field in Longview, the field will include the top five teams in the final NWAACC poll and seven out of eight. The only exception is Chemeketa, ranked 10th.
The one missing: No. 6 Tacoma, in the same West Region at No. 2 Pierce and No. 5 Lower Columbia.
Most of the teams are on a roll, having won nine of their last 10, 23 of 25 or (in Mt. Hood’s case) 32 of 37.
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But there are two notable exceptions.
The first is top-ranked Bellevue, which dropped its last two, and the second Columbia Basin, on a four-game slide.
The two teams having something else in common — CBC in the East and Bellevue from the North were guaranteed a spot in this week’s tournament via their regular-season titles and didn’t need to win their regionals.
The South and West don’t hold regional tournaments, instead sending their top two regular-season finishers.
CBC (25-21) opens with No. 4 Mt. Hood (25-9), perhaps the hottest team in the tourney, at 4:35 p.m. Thursday. The two teams played a pair of early-season games in Pasco, with the Saints winning 3-2 and 4-2 in 11 innings.
Mt. Hood is a decent hitting team that can pressure defenses on the base paths. But the Saints pitching has been lights out with a 2.14 team ERA.
Sophomore Taylor Williams has been the ace of aces, going 6-0 with a 1.37 ERA, allowing 43 hits and just 13 walks in 591⁄3 innings while striking out 46.
Isaac Henslee, a sophomore from Pendleton, is 4-0 with a 1.64 ERA with 16 walks in 55 innings. The Saints as a staff have been good at not giving up many free bases.
Williams stymied the Hawks when the two teams met earlier, throwing seven innings of six-hit ball and giving up just one earned run.
Freshman center fielder Joey Jansen was one of the few CBC players to have much success that day, with five hits in the two games.
The four consecutive losses for the Hawks come with a caveat for those thinking they might be easy pickings — their 21 losses are noticeable against nine for Mt. Hood, 10 for Bellevue and Everett and 12 for Pierce.
CBC didn’t need to win any of them and mixed up its lineup from the one that won 12 of 15 before that and 19 of 25. It more resembled the lineups coach Steve Farrington used while trying to figure out all the pieces during his team’s 6-11 start.
Jansen has led the team in hitting most of the season, carrying a .354 average. He and sophomore DH/pitcher Matt Minnich (.301) are the only Hawks over .300, though the team carries a solid .264 average.
On the mound, Arty Reyes has been the most reliable arm (6-1, 2.42 ERA), though both Jon Rapose (7-5, 3.22) and Nico Lytle (3-2, 3.65) have had dominating starts.
Notes: CBC, of course, has plenty of Mid-Columbia players on its roster. However, Yakima Valley is the only other team sporting players from the area: pitcher Victor Mata from DeSales, catcher Dyllon Smith from Columbia-Burbank and infielder Hayden Hilty from Richland. ... If strength of schedule is an indicator, then watch out for Bellevue, which is 9-3 against tourney teams, including sweeps of Pierce and Yakima Valley and three wins against North foe Everett. Chemeketa is 6-3, including a 5-1 record against Mt. Hood, which is 4-0 against the rest of the field. On the flip side, Pierce is 3-8, and host Lower Columbia 4-6. Columbia Basin is 3-5 — splitting series with LC and YVC and losing the pair to Mt. Hood.