RICHLAND -- Every time the Kamiakin baseball team needs a win, the Braves give the ball to Jesse Houser and send him to the mound.
Invariably, every time they need a big hit, they hope Drew Oord is at the plate.
On Saturday, both veterans delivered big-time for Kamiakin with the season on the line.
Houser threw six big innings, and Oord looped a two-run single to right field to lead the Braves to a 6-3 win in eight innings over Hanford at the Falcons’ Waits Field.
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“We’re not surprised,” Oord said of the Braves getting back to state despite graduating most of their players from last year’s team that placed fourth. “We knew it would be more of a battle, that we’d have to come through in the clutch.
“But our goal still is to win state.”
It’s been a battle throughout the playoffs for Kamiakin, originally the No. 2 seed into the postseason but dropped to No. 4 after forfeiting three games.
Since trading in that early bye for the hard road, the Braves have played in five playoff games. They’ve only won three, but they were the right three — all with the season on the line.
“They’ve had one game in the last 10 days,” Oord said of Hanford, the CBBN’s No. 1 seed to the sub-regional, “and we had four. And theirs was not loser-out.”
Next up for Kamiakin (15-9) is the first round of the state playoffs next Saturday at Yakima’s County Stadium, where it will face Mt. Spokane (17-7) at 1 p.m.
The Wildcats beat the Braves 1-0 on Tuesday, then lost to Kennewick 17-4 in the sub-regional championship Saturday in Spokane. The Lions (18-7) will play District 3/4 No. 6 in Yakima at 10 a.m. The winners of Saturday’s first-round games meet at 4 p.m. for a trip to the semifinals at Gesa Stadium in Pasco.
Hanford, meanwhile, will have to settle with winning its first league title since 1997, as the Falcons (18-4) came one game short of extending their run of four consecutive years to state.
“We had talent and we played well for a while — that’s how we won the league championship,” said Hanford coach Tom DeWitz. “But at the end of the season, we had a couple guys banged up, and our bats cooled off for whatever reason.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s not going to tarnish the season.”
Both Kamiakin and Hanford got big starts from their aces.
Houser kept the Falcons quiet for four innings before they put together a three-run rally in the fifth, all with two out.
Finn McMichael’s two-run double was the big blow, and he came around on Ryan Neal’s single, though Neal was gunned down trying to take second on the throw.
But those runs pulled Hanford back to even after Ty Earley’s two-run, two-out blast over the left field fence in the fourth opened a 3-0 edge.
The Braves had taken some big cuts on Hanford starter Colin Serkowski’s first offering, and Earley was no different.
“He threw a curve or slider and hung it,” the junior catcher said. “I was sitting on curve or slider.”
It was the only big mistake Serkowski made, who battled into the eighth despite walking three and hitting two more.
A hit batter and a perfect bunt opened the door for trouble in the eighth, followed by a mishandled sacrifice bunt to load the bases with no out.
That was the final hitter for Serkowski, and reliever Bear Braich came in with a Herculean task.
He got the first batter he faced on strikes, but then came Oord, a four-year starter for the Braves who is no stranger to pressure.
Just a week ago, he served up the winning hit in extra innings in a must-win game against Eastmont. And he did the same thing Saturday, guiding a 1-0 offering into right field for two big runs.
“Every time you’re looking to hit the ball hard,” he said. “But when the pitcher makes a good pitch, you have to do anything you can to make a play. I was just lucky it was on the inside half.”
The Braves tacked on another run for good measure. Then sophomore David Marshall, who took over for Houser in the seventh, battled back after walking two batters to close the door.
Isaac Benard had a couple of hits for Hanford, sparking the offense from the No. 9 hole. Kamiakin also got good production from the back of its lineup, with Jacob Valdez and Tylor Machart combining for five hits. Machert also saved a run in the fifth, throwing out a runner at home from left field.
Kennewick 17, Mt. Spokane 4: Jarod Gonzales homered and drove in four runs, and Garrett Wilz and Troy Fulton drove in three apiece as the Lions rolled to the sub-regional title in Spokane.
Kamiakin 010 200 03 — 6 10 0
Hanford 000 030 00 — 3 8 3Jesse Houser, David Marshall (7) and Ty Earley; Colin Serkowski, Bear Braich (8) and Jake Browne. Highlights—T. Earley (K) 2-R HR; Drew Oord (K) 2x2, 2 BB, 2 RBI; Jacob Valdez (K) 2x3, HBP, 2R; Tylor Machart (K) 3x3, R; Finn McMichael (H) 2x4, 2B, 2 RBI; Isaac Benard (H) 2x3.
Kennewick 2221415 0 — 17 17 0
Mt. Spokane 000220 0 — 4 6 8Stetson Plew, Jarrod Molnaa (6) and Garrett Wilz; Goodwig, Heckel (4), Wohlfeil (7) and Sanford. Highlights—K: Trek Stemp 4x5; Troy Fullton 3x4, 2 2B, 3 RBI; Jarod Gonzales 2x3, HR, 4 RBI; Steve Sordahl 2x5, 2B; Wilz 3x4, 2B, 3 RBI; Plew 5IP-6H-10K MtS: Sanford 2x3, HR.