An argument could be made that the most important game Jesse Houser pitched this spring wasn’t the state semifinals or even any of the five must-win postseason starts he had.
Heck, it wasn’t even a win.
It was a 9-2 loss to Southridge back on April 10, early in the start of league play, that set the tone for Kamiakin’s state championship season.
Houser lasted just three innings, gave up six earned runs, walked six and hit a batter. At the time, he thought the outing spoiled a great start to the season in which he allowed just one earned run in 15 innings, striking out 27 and walking four.
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“I was bummed out,” he said, “because I wasn’t going to be the best now.”
But Braves coach Ryan Carter settled him down and made the point that you don’t want to be the best in March or April, just at the end of May.
Turns out, Houser was the best all season, being named the Tri-City Herald’s All-Area player of the year.
“It’s a great honor, honestly,” a surprised Houser said. “I didn’t really think about it, but it’s great. We worked so hard.”
Houser’s season-long numbers say a lot: 9-1 with a 2.27 ERA on the mound, allowing 96 base runners in 77 innings and striking out 83; hitting .379 with 12 doubles, four triples, 25 RBIs and 25 runs scored.
But numbers alone don’t tell the story. He was on the mound for three loser-out games just to get to state — 1-0 win over Eastmont in extra innings, 7-2 over Southridge and 6-3 over Hanford, also in extra innings.
He threw a shutout against rival Kennewick in the state quarterfinals, and he settled in after some early troubles in the semifinals against Bishop Blanchet to give his team a chance to come back for a 7-5 win, throwing all nine innings.
In five postseason starts, Houser went 4-0 with a 1.32 ERA, giving up seven earned runs, 31 hits and 13 walks in 37 innings while striking out 26. Though his hitting tailed off in the postseason — he batted .500 in the regular season — no one was more valuable.
“He’s just tough man,” said Carter, who earned his second consecutive nod as coach of the year. “The farther in the game we got, the tougher he got. The farther in the season we got, the tougher he got. He really rose to the challenge and took charge on the mound, and defensively we fed off that.”
And the lesson Houser learned back in April resonated through the season.
“The big thing we stressed to him is he doesn’t have to win the game, he just has to compete and battle, and we’ll find a way to score runs and play solid defense,” Carter said. “That’s how you do it.”
And that’s how the Braves won their second state title.
And just like Kamiakin’s hard-fought title, Houser’s player of the year award didn’t come easy, not with competition like Kennewick’s Trek Stemp and Hanford’s Colin Serkowski.
Serkowski, named to the first team as a first baseman, dominated the regular season at the plate and on the mound, hitting .500 with four homers and 21 RBIs, and going 7-1 with a 1.72 ERA.
Stemp affected games like no other pure position player, whether it was robbing hits at short, hitting .506 (including the playoffs) with 13 extra-base hits, 21 RBIs and 36 runs scored, or stealing an incredible 33 bases.
For the rest of the first team:
The three-pitcher staff consists of Houser, Richland junior Mason Hilty and Kennewick senior Stetson Plew. Hilty and Plew both put on postseason pitching clinics as well, leading their teams deep into the postseason.
Southridge senior Dylan Maurer is behind the plate, and the infield has the senior Serkowski at first, Hanford senior Ryan Neal at second, Kamiakin senior Drew Oord at third and the senior Stemp at short.
Kamiakin senior Andrew Castillo, Hanford senior Trevor Jones and Chiawana senior CJ Edrington comprise the outfield.
Richland senior Corey Morris, a middle infielder who played catcher all season, got the nod for first-team utility. Kennewick sophomore JJ Hancock, one of just two non-seniors on the first team, was the pick at designated hitter.
Tri-City Herald's All-Area baseball team
MVP | Jesse Houser, sr., Kamiakin
Coach | Ryan Carter, Kamiakin
P | Stetson Plew, sr., Kennewick
P | Mason Hilty, jr., Richland
C | Dylan Maurer, sr., Southridge
1B | Colin Serkowski, sr., Hanford
2B | Ryan Neal, sr., Hanford
3B | Drew Oord, sr., Kamiakin
SS | Trek Stemp, sr., Kennewick
OF | Trevor Jones, sr., Hanford
OF | CJ Edrington, sr., Chiawana
OF | Andrew Castillo, sr., Kamiakin
Util | Corey Morris, sr., Richland
DH | JJ Hancock, so., Kennewick
P | David Marshall, so., Kamiakin
P | Levi Broeske, jr., Richland
P | Conner O’Neil, jr., Southridge
C | Taylor Lemke, sr., Walla Walla
1B | Jarod Gonzales, sr., Kennewick
2B | Josh Eggers, sr., Walla Walla
3B | Matt Mendenhall, sr., Southridge
SS | AJ Hoskins, sr., Hanford
OF | Moe Handcox, sr., Walla Walla
OF | Taylor Sanderson, sr., Southridge
OF | Connor Moore, sr., Richland
Util | Nolan Earley, sr., Kamiakin
DH | Tyler Steckler, sr., Hanford
Best of the rest
P Daniel Deaton, sr., Kiona-Benton; P Jarrod Molnaa, jr., Kennewick; P Luke Reardon, jr., Walla Walla; C Ty Earley, jr., Kamiakin; C Garrett Wilz, sr., Kennewick; C Jake Browne, sr., Hanford; 1B Chris Gill, sr., Chiawana; 2B Logan Jackson, jr., Kamiakin; 3B Hunter Chambers, so., Richland; 3B Spencer Locati, so., Walla Walla; SS Ethan Cantu, sr., Pasco; OF Troy Fulton, sr., Kennewick; OF Finn McMichael, sr., Hanford; OF Elijah Gardaya, sr., Richland; OF Steven Sordahl, so., Kennewick; OF Isaac Benard, so., Hanford; Util Cole Henderson, jr., Southridge; DH Gibson McGeorge, so., Richland; DH Jacob Valdez, sr., Kamiakin.