A few notes coming out of Tuesday night’s baseball games in the Mid-Columbia Conference.
First, couldn’t be more impressed with the performance of Richland’s Mason Hilty in his one-hit shutout of Hanford. Complete command, and not just getting ahead in the count by throwing fat fastballs, but spotting it where and when he pleased.
Twenty-three times Hanford hitters stepped into the box, and only four times did they get the ball out of the infield. Hilty struck out eight, the most impressive in the fifth inning when he fell behind 3-1, then pulled the string on back-to-back sliders to get ’em looking.
Hilty was in such a grove that as soon as he got the ball back from catcher Tyler Kjarmo, he was glaring back at home, his glove covering his face below the eyes. As soon as the umpire motioned, he was winding up.
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Falcons coach Tom DeWitz said they talked about breaking Hilty’s rhythm — step out a few times, double-check for signs, tie a shoe, anything — but there were not that many chances as he cruised through the first three innings in 47 pitches.
The hardest hit ball of the game was Isaac Benard’s liner to right, an at-’em ball in the fourth. Going up against a lineup with the likes of Benard (.625, 5 HR, 28 RBI) and Cody Kowalski (.395, 3 HR, 16 RBI), Hilty said he changed his usual approach “a little bit but not much. I just throw my game, get them out in front.”
Speaking of Benard, the talented junior outfielder made an early exit from the second game when Tim Tefft pinch hit for him with one out and a runner at first. Hanford fans were scratching their heads, but Tefft bunted the runner along, and Austin Taylor delivered an RBI single for the Falcons' first lead of the day. They would go on to score twice more in the inning.
So, gutsy coaching move? Nah, DeWitz said, just Benard suffering the effects of the flew and a long day.
Which leads to another observation. Got to love the toughness of this Hanford club — filled mostly with first-year varsity players following last year’s super senior class — to come back from 10 frames of quiet bats and score 10 runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings and snatch a 10-6 win from their rivals. And to do it with the best hitter in the league sitting on the bench.
Also, a tip of the cap to Hanford starter Jacob Anderson, who worked around six walks in 4-plus innings and only gave up two runs. It helped that he allowed just two hits and also picked off a runner at first.
It may seem unlikely that Walla Walla would take a game off Southridge on Tuesday, what with the Blue Devils 2-6 in league coming in and 4-9 overall, and the Suns 6-0 and 10-2.
But Southridge coach Tim Sanders said Monday he never feels safe making the trip east, adding that something odd always seems to happen.
What happened Tuesday was another strong performance by Wa-Hi hurler Adam Mathews, who went the distance on a five-hitter for his third win, more than half his team’s total.
The Suns bounced back behind senior Jake Ebberts, who quietly has become one of the MCC’s most effective pitchers. His 1.27 ERA coming into the week was second behind Kennewick’s Jarrod Molnaa.
Ebberts’ only other start this season was a two-hit shutout of Chiawana on April 10. Most of his work has come in relief as Sanders has spread the starts around a talented staff that collectively has a 2.78 ERA.
The Kamiakin Braves are another team with a strong staff, evidenced by their team ERA of 2.46. Junior ace David Marshall has been lights out since getting hit up in losses to Interlake and Kennewick the last week of March.
In his last three starts against Richland, Walla Walla and Pasco, Marshall hasn’t given up an earned run (four unearned in 4-0 loss to Wa-Hi) in 17 innings, with 21 strikeouts against nine hits and only four walks (an impressive 0.765 WHIP). That included his one-hit, 10-strikeout showing against the Bombers when he outdueled Hilty.
Unfortunately for the Braves, they haven’t found a lot of offense to back up all that good pitching, with a team batting average hovering a little too close to the Mendoza line at .232.
It should be pointed out that Kamiakin opened the MCC season against five tough pitchers: Kennewick’s Molnaa and Clayten Ayres, Richland’s Hilty and Levi Broeske and Wa-Hi’s Mathews (20-for-141, .141 BA and 10 runs in those games). In their last three games, the Braves are hitting .357 (39-for-109) and have scored 24 runs.
Chiawana visits LaPierre on Friday, and the Riverhawks are searching for their first win in April (0-6) after going 3-1 in league and 6-4 overall in March. One area they could do better in is helping themselves, averaging nearly two errors a game and a walk an inning.
Pasco, meanwhile, is searching for its first league win, though the Bulldogs have come close. They lost in the last at-bat against Kamiakin on Tuesday and were close in 7-6 and 6-4 losses. They also lost 6-4 to Chiawana in the league opener. They close out with Hanford at home Friday and at Walla Walla on April 26.
And that brings us to Kennewick, the last unbeaten team in the MCC (8-0) and the hottest team around (winners of nine straight and 11 of 12).
The toughest thing about the Lions is they have no single star, but a lineup of guys who can go off at any time. Steven Sordahl and Dylan Wilbert lead Kennewick with 10 RBIs each, and eight players have at least six. Eight also have scored at least 10 runs.
Molnaa and Ayres each have started seven games, and Colton Plew and freshman Matt Driver have been shut the door in relief. Oh, and committing just eight errors on the season is a big help as well.
We’re less than two weeks from the start of district play among the 4A schools, and there are some great games coming up down the stretch.
On Friday, Southridge (7-1 MCC) visits Richland (6-4) and probably needs a split to stay close to Kennewick heading into their twinbill April 26 at Southridge. Richland, meanwhile, probably is a win away from locking up the 4A top seed, three games up on Walla Walla and Chiawana. The Bombers close at the Riverhawks, while Wa-Hi finishes at Kennewick on Friday and at home against Pasco on April 26.