YAKIMA — There is an axiom in state baseball in Washington, tried and true, that only the bravest coaches — or most foolish, depending on the outcome — put things to the test.
If you save your No. 1, you might end up in No. 2. And at this time of year, second best is never a good option.
Thus the combination of joy and relief dominating Ryan Carter’s mug Saturday evening after the Kamiakin coach’s gamble paid off richly.
Carter threw sophomore pitcher David Marshall in the Braves’ state opener against Mt. Spokane, which allowed him to save pressure-tested senior Jesse Houser for a quarterfinal matchup with Kennewick at Yakima County Stadium.
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Worked like a charm as first Marshall threw six strong innings and got a big boost from the offense in an 11-2 win over the Wildcats, and then Houser blanked the Lions with a laborious three-hitter in a 2-0 quarterfinal victory.
The wins send Kamiakin (17-9) back to the 3A state semifinals for the second consecutive season, and took Carter off the hook from a heep of second guessing.
“It worked!” he cried. “Jesse was unbelievable. He’s so tough — his calf cramped up in the third inning, and we were pumping water into him. And David just got in a rhythm and attacked them.”
And now the Braves will turn their attentions to Bishop Blanchet, their opponent in a 10 a.m. semifinal Friday at Gesa Stadium in Pasco.
Meanwhile, a Kennewick team loaded with senior talent, some of them three- and four-year starters, will have to nurse the fractured feelings left over from a premature ending.
The Lions (19-8) were trying to get back to the final four for the first time since 2008, when they won it all.
“There are a lot of hard good-byes out there, a lot of really emotional young men,” said Lions coach AJ Marquardt. “It seems like it was set up this way, two Kennewick schools going at it.”
Kennewick got a pair of top-notch performances on the mound as well, starting with Stetson Plew’s masterful game against Hazen in Saturday’s opener, a 4-0 win for the Lions.
Plew went the distance in a three-hitter, striking out 11, walking none and hitting two batters. After giving up a two-out double to put runners on second and third in the first inning, he set down 11 straight.
And Jarrod Molnaa took most of the bite out of a Kamiakin offense that piled up 13 hits against Mt. Spokane.
Against the Lions, the Braves needed a heads up play by junior catcher Ty Earley to get on the board in the first.
Earley reached on a one-out infield single and moved to third on Drew Oord’s double. Then Houser swung at strike three in the dirt and took off for first. Kennewick catcher Garrett Wilz fired the ball to first to complete the strikeout, and Earley took off for home, essentially stealing a run.
“I saw (the ball) was in the dirt, and when he threw to first, he didn’t even look at me,” Earley said.
The play drew high praise from Carter: “He’s a savy little twirp gamer.”
And the run was the game’s only tally until Earley drove in an insurance score in the seventh.
But Houser didn’t need it.
He struggled through his first four innings, despite allowing just one hit, routinely going deep into counts and walking four.
The Braves caught some breaks. Trek Stemp was thrown out stealing in the first — a rare occurance for a guy with more than 30 steals.
Another runner died at third in the second, and two on with one out in the third went for nothing. Even a leadoff double by Vince Gonzalez in the fifth came away empty.
And Houser faced the minimum over the final two innings — thanks to a 5-4-3 double play in the seventh.
“It feels really good,” said Johnny Jansen, who had five hits on the day and had another taken away by Troy Fulton’s brilliant diving catch in right.
Kennewick 4, Hazen 0: Stemp’s RBI triple gave Kennewick a 2-0 lead after two, and JJ Hancock and Jarod Gonzales each drove in runs in the fifth to give Plew plenty of breathing room for the final two innings.
Stemp, Hancock and Sam Guin hitting in the No. 9 hole each had two hits for the Lions.
Kamiakin 11, Mt. Spokane 2: Logan Jackson cleared the bases with a double, and Oord followed with a two-run two-bagger as the Braves opened a five-run cushion in the second inning and never looked back.
Nolan Earley and Jansen sparked the offense hitting in the Nos. 6 and 7 holes, combining for six hits, three runs, four RBIs, a double and a sacrifice fly. They were in the thick of all three run-scoring rallies for Kamiakin.
Hazen 000 000 0 — 0 3 1
Kennewick 110 020 x — 4 7 1
Jimmy Schmidt and Kyle Nelson; Stetson Plew and Garrett Wilz. Highlights—Nelson (H) 2x3, 2B; Plew (K) 7IP-3H-0R-0BB-2HBP-11K; Trek Stemp (K) 2x3, RBI 3B; Troy Fulton (K) 2R; JJ Hancock (K) 2x3, RBI; Jarod Gonzales (K) RBI 2B; Sam Guin (K) 2x3, 2R.
Kamiakin 052 300 1 — 11 13 0
Mt. Spokane 000 020 0 — 2 3 1
Drew Rasmussen, Cole Heckel (5), Brandon Goehring (7) and Tucker Sanford; David Marshall, Austen Hebdon (7) and Ty Earley. Highlights—Marshall (K) 6IP-3H-2R-6BB-6K; Logan Jackson (K) 2x5, 3-R 2B; Drew Oord (K) 2-R 2B, 3 BB; Andrew Castillo (K) 2x4, 2B, RBI, 2R; Nolan Earley (K) 2x2, 2B, 2 RBI, 2R, SF; Johnny Jansen (K) 4x5, 2 RBI; Jacob Valdez (K) 2B.
Kamiakin 100 000 1 — 2 8 1
Kennewick 000 000 0 — 0 3 1
Jesse Houser and T. Earley; Jarrod Molnaa, Clayten Ayers (6) and Wilz. Highlights—Houser (Kam)_ 7IP-3H-0R-4BB-4K; T. Earley (Kam) 2x3, R, RBI, BB; Oord (Kam) 2B; Valdez (Kam) 2x3, R; Vince Gonzalez (Ken) 2B; Molnaa (Ken) 5 1/3IP-6H-1R-2BB-2K.