Contrary to popular belief, there is an NWAACC East Regional baseball playoff this season. Just because the fields are quiet at Columbia Basin College doesn’t mean they’ve called it off.
For the first time in four seasons, the East’s two berths to the NWAACC championships will be determined outside of Pasco, with the tournament starting Friday at Treasure Valley’s Elks Memorial Field in Ontario, Ore.
Third seed Walla Walla (27-17) opens with No. 2 Yakima Valley (29-15) at 10 a.m., while regular-season champ Treasure Valley (34-10) takes on No. 4 Wenatchee Valley (21-19).
The host Chukars automatically advance to the NWAACCs, set for May 23-27 at Lower Columbia’s storied Story Field in Longview. That leaves the other three teams battling for the remaining spot.
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CBC, which finished 21-23 and in sixth place, will miss out on a chance to extend its string of 15 straight NWAACC appearances. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of local talent taking part in the postseason.
First, Walla Walla is loaded with players from the Tri-Cities and, obviously, Walla Walla. Their top four regular hitters all are freshmen from local schools — Jarod Gonzales (Kennewick, .357, 15 2B, 9 HR, 40 RBI, 29 BB, 12K), Trevor Jones (Hanford, .348, 8 2B, 20 RBI, 27R), Jesse Houser (Kamiakin, .345, 17 RBI, 20 R) and Ryan Neal (Hanford, .329, 26 RBI, 33 R).
Drew Christina, a sophomore from Wa-Hi, is 7-2 with a 1.71 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 73 2/3 innings pitched. Houser is 7-4 with a 3.55 ERA, and Christina’s Wa-Hi teammate, Jake Campeau, is 6-3 with a 4.46 ERA.
Wenatchee Valley has a heavy influence from Kamiakin, starting with coach Dustin Willis. Sophomore outfielder Justin Berneski leads the team with a .375 average, and sophomore infielder Blake Raekes is hitting .250 with 12 RBIs, 23 runs and an amazing 23 walks and six hit by pitches in 154 plate appearances against just eight strikeouts.
On the hill, freshman Jake Valdez is a key reliever with a 2.21 ERA, two saves and 19 strikeouts in 20-plus innings.
Finally at Yakima Valley, another former Kamiakin player, freshman Andrew Castillo, has been platooning in the outfield. He is hitting .183 with 12 RBIs in 60 at-bats.