As the ball left the bat, Kaden Julian knew it was going to be close.
Southridge second baseman Cole Henderson was leading off the top of the seventh inning and facing an 0-2 count in Saturday’s Class 3A District 5/8 title game at Roy Johnson Field.
Kennewick pitcher Jarrod Molnaa delivered his 75th pitch of a sweaty afternoon and Henderson got a piece of it, just enough to send a flair the other way into right field that was dying fast. Julian, playing a little deep with a six-run lead and three outs to go, had a bead on it.
“I tracked it,” the Lions senior outfielder said. “I was coming in as hard as I could. I thought I had it totally, but it missed my glove I guess.”
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Missed the glove and found the ground, got by for a double for Henderson, and the Suns finally had their first hit of the day.
Three batters later, shortstop Vince Gonzalez ranged into the hole to start a game-ending 6-4-3 twin killing that gave the Lions a 6-0 win and Molnaa a one-hit shutout.
“I’ve never had (a no-hitter), closest I’ve been,” Molnaa said, then threw some love to his right fielder. “I love the effort there. He tried.”
Most importantly, Molnaa, Gonzalez, Julian and the rest of the Lions crew will take their act to next weekend’s regional round of state at Pasco High.
With league and district titles already in their pockets, there is only one more left to get — state.
“That’s what we want,” said Kennewick catcher Dylan Wilbert, whose two-run double helped power a four-run fifth inning that gave Molnaa plenty of breathing room.
The Lions (19-3) will be joined at state by the Suns (16-7), who bounced back to down Hanford 6-2 behind a big-time mound performance of their own as Jake Ebberts gutted through six innings and several spots of trouble without giving up a big hit.
“You could feel the energy,” Ebberts said of coming back from the loss to Kennewick. “And I was ready to go. There was no doubt in my mind that this game was mine.”
There was no doubt about who owned the title game.
Kennewick jumped on Southridge early with two runs in the first, including an RBI double from Gonzalez. Suns starter Conner O’Neil settled in after that until running into trouble in the fifth. A walk and an error scored one run, and Clayten Ayres singled through the left side of the infield to set the table for Wilbert.
The Lions’ No. 5 hitter yanked a ball down the line in right, scoring two runners for a 5-0 edge that was a cliff for the Suns the way Molnaa was throwing.
He walked a batter in the first and fourth innings and hit one in the fifth. But all around that were 10 easy grounders, three turned into double plays and another that went as an error when — this actually happened — the throw to first broke through the webbing of Colton Plew’s mitt.
“The defense did the work today,” said Molnaa, who struck out six to improve to 7-0 on the season. “Those guys do the work and I get the credit.”
Southridge 6, Hanford 2: The Suns scored in each of the first four innings to build a five-run lead, though Addison Spivey’s RBI double in the third was the only big hit.
“Quite honestly, we just played small ball,” said Southridge coach Tim Sanders. “We made their (infield) play small ball. ... We sacked guys up and pushed ’em in, and we played solid defense.”
Jared Newbry’s bunt single to start the game turned into a run on O’Neil’s single up the middle. Spivey’s infield single to start the second came home on Andrew Nett’s grounder to short.
It was more of the same the rest of the evening, and it was plenty of support for Ebberts, who gave up a run in the first but escaped bases loaded in the second and runners in scoring position in the third, fourth and sixth innings.
One key decision was giving three intentional passes to Isaac Benard, Hanford’s triple-crown winner.
“Their pitcher did an outstanding job,” said Hanford coach Tom DeWitz. “He really handcuffed us when he needed to. He made quality pitches to real good hitters when he needed to.”
Hanford 8, Kamiakin 2: The Falcons (13-10) won the morning loser-out game over the Braves (12-11) thanks to a seven-run fifth inning.
To that point, Kamiakin starter David Marshall was on top of the Hanford lineup. But the Falcons starting going with pitches, stringing together a series of hits until Aaron Enderlin hit a two-run single and Benard clubbed a two-run double that was about two feet away from being a home run over the high center-field fence.
Notes: Southridge will face Decatur (15-11) of Federal Way in the 10 a.m. game next Saturday in Pasco after the Golden Gators secured the No. 6 seed from the District 3/4 tournament. Kennewick’s opponent will be determined Tuesday with Seattle Prep (17-7) playing Bellevue (15-7). ... This is the second straight year for Kennewick reaching state and the fifth in 12 seasons under coach A.J. Marquardt. For the Suns, it is their first state trip since 2011 and fifth under Sanders, who has been the coach at Southridge since the program started in 1998.
Southridge 000 000 0 — 0 1 2
Kennewick 200 040 x — 6 10 1
Conner O’Neil, Trenton Nett (5), Jordan Dawson (5), Brody Samples (6) and Grant Lathim; Jarrod Molnaa and Dylan Wilbert. Highlights—Molnaa (K) 7IP-1H-2BB-1HBP-6K; Steven Sordahl (K0 2x4, R, SB; Vince Gonzalez (K) 1x2, 2B, 2BB, RBI, 2R; Wilbert (K) 2x3, 2B, 2 RBI, R; Alex Storaci (K) 2x3, RBI; Kaden Julian (K) 2x3, SB.
Hanford 100 000 1 — 2 10 3
Southridge 113 100 x — 6 11 0
Jacob Anderson, Sawyer Henry (5), Tanner Heiman (6) and Aaron Enderlin; Jake Ebberts, Justin Kreutz (7) and Austin Morfin. Highlights—Austin Taylor (H) 2x4, R; Cody Kowalski (H) 1x1, RBI, 2 BB, R; Jalen DeVine (H) 2x4, 2B; Anthony Pocaro (H) 3x4, RBI; Ebberts (S) 6IP-2ER-8H-6BB-4K; O’Neil (S) 3x3, RBI, 2R; Lathim (S) 2x4; Addison Spivey (S) 2x4, 2B, RBI, SB, R; A. Morfin (S) 2x3.
Kamiakin 101 000 0 — 2 7 0
Hanford 000 170 x — 8 8 2
David Marshall, Trystan Drury (7) and Ty Earley; DeVine, Henry (7) and Enderlin. Highlights—Earley (K) 2x3, 2R; Johnny Jansen (K) 2x4, 2 RBI; Benard (H) 2-RBI 2B; Ryan Colson (H) 2x2, RBI; Enderlin (H) 2 RBI.w Kevin Anthony: 582-1403; email@example.com