It’s the midway point of the baseball season and there are two marquee matchups this weekend in the Mid-Columbia.
Undefeatd Kennewick (12-0, 6-0 Mid-Columbia Conference) travels to Walla Walla today to take on the Blue Devils (11-3, 6-2).
The SCAC East has Kiona-Benton (10-4, 5-1) hosting No. 2-ranked Connell (13-1, 4-0) on Saturday — a doubleheader that could have a bearing on the league title.
The Blue Devils will try and get back on top with a pair of wins over the Lions. They dropped a pair of games to Richland on Tuesday and are tied for second with the Bombers.
Walla Walla did not pitch top two starters Ryan Kimball or Zach Zehner against Richland, instead going with Logan Cordero and Kyle Barker. It’s just how the pitching rotation worked out, said Wa-Hi coach Keith Gradwohl.
“It would have been a little bit more of a classic on Friday if we would have gotten past Richland,” Gradwohl said. “We are trying to have four starters. With no breaks in the action, it is tough to throw (Kimball and Zehner) Tuesday-Friday. It’s just how we matched up. We didn’t have the luxury of a bye like Kennewick.”
The Lions, who were off Tuesday, come into today’s game having swept Richland last Friday.
“Kennewick is going to be tougher than heck,” Gradwohl said. “We have to bounce back. We definitely didn’t play our best baseball against Richland. We have six MCC games left. It is getting fun.”
In today’s opener, the Blue Devils will throw Kimball (4-0), a sophomore right-hander with a sterling 1.46 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 24 innings. Zehner (5-1), a senior right-hander, will start Game 2. Zehner has a 3.67 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 26 innings.
Senior Spencer Locati leads the brigade at the plate, hitting .455 with 15 RBIs. He also has been walked 16 times in 14 games. Junior Reid Magnaghi is hitting .391 with 17 RBIs.
“We have always been able to pitch,” Gradwohl said. “Now, we are hitting the ball better and getting more wins. What has been our strength is hitting the ball on the ground and using our speed. We hit a lot of fly balls against Richland.”
While the Eagles are making noise in the state rankings, the Bears would like to be that random team that comes out of nowhere to make a statement, and Saturday is a good time to start.
“This is huge,” said Ki-Be coach Steve Woods, whose team has won six games in a row. “Basically for the league title, in my opinion.”
The Eagles are 4-0 in league play, while the Bears are 5-1 after splitting with Royal.
“However it goes — split, sweep, whatever — (both teams) will have a lot of control by the way people have been playing,” Connell coach Tom Walker said. “Ki-Be has been playing really well. They swept Warden and Burbank. It was interesting to see Ki-Be sweep those two.”
The Eagles, whose lone loss was to Naches Valley, have 10-runned their opponents in their four SCAC East wins.
“They are hot and they are good,” Woods said. “They are capable of breaking the sticks out this year. We are going to have make the routine plays. It will come down to who makes ‘that’ mistake.”
Though his team has been manufacturing runs like crazy, Walker said Kiona-Benton offers a solid pitching staff that could cause problems.
“I’m seeing some pretty good pitching and defense from them,” Walker said. “The last few games have been lowing scoring games for them. It will be a challenge for our team to try and produce the offense we have against a little better pitching.”
Woods said senior right-hander James Deaton and sophomore right-hander Trey Manson will each get a game Saturday.
Connell will counter with senior right-hander Austin Forsyth and junior right-hander Jess Hawk.
“They were our 1-2 guys last year as well,” Walker said. “We have really good pitching, really good defense and we are putting up runs. Our offense has been there all year.”
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