One moment, Kennewick pitcher Mark Driver was in a position to deliver the Lions to the Class 3A state baseball semifinals for the fifth time in school history.
With his team up a run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and a two-strike count on Mt. Spokane senior Connor Cantu, Driver needed one more strike and Kennewick would be on its way.
The next moment, it was all gone: The dream of hanging another championship banner in the Lions Den along with the chance to play for a title in front of a home crowd at Gesa Stadium.
The ball was gone, too. Cantu lined it over the fence in right center field to give the Wildcats a 7-4 victory and a first-ever trip to the Final Four.
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Minutes later, Driver sat in the dugout, pondering what could have been. Looking out through a somber gaze, the right-hander felt the sadness of giving up the home run that ended his senior season. But there was no shame in the Gonzaga-bound pitcher’s eyes.
“This is extra difficult. There’s no other feeling like it,” he said. “I had total confidence in myself and the team, especially my defense. I threw him a fastball. That’s the pitch we as a team thought was right.”
The pride that marked each Kennewick player throughout the season remained even as the last player was ready to leave the field. As the Lions say, you have to earn the right to cry.
“As hard as these guys work, as much as they’ve done for the school, you’re darn right they’ve earned the right to cry,” Kennewick coach A.J. Marquardt said. “It’s a cruel sport at times, but these guys had the guts to lay it on the line.”
To his credit, Cantu did too. The senior outfielder was 0-for-3 heading into the seventh and wasn’t too familiar with the hard-throwing right-hander. So when it came time for the 1-2 pitch, he took an educated guess.
“I tried my best to erase everything and wipe the slate clean,” Cantu said. “I faced him a little bit at Baseball Northwest, but I had no idea what he was going to throw. I figured I’d sit on the fastball, and if he threw me an offspeed pitch I’d keep my weight back and try to get it over the infield.”
Driver allowed a single to Nick Cain to start the seventh, then retired the next two batters, putting Kennewick within one out of a win. But Driver struggled to find the strike zone from there, walking McDonald and Rasmussen on eight pitches to set up Cantu’s heroics.
“He just made a good swing on the ball. The kid still has to put the wood on it,” Marquardt said. “He could have just as easily hit it a quarter-inch higher and popped it up.”
Mt. Spokane got on the board early against Lions starter Colton Plew, scoring three runs in the first inning on a two-run double from Blake McDonald and a run-scoring double by Drew Rasmussen.
But Kennewick chipped its way back into it, getting a run in the third on an RBI double by Charlie DeWitt. The Lions got two more in the top of the fifth on an RBI single by JJ Hancock and then a bases-loaded walk to Josh Kutzke to tie the score at 3.
Kennewick took a 4-3 lead in the top of the sixth, after Malik Sitler hit a leadoff single and later scored on a sacrifice fly by DeWitt, who had two hits on the day to go with two RBIs.
“I felt like we were right there. We were confident we would win. I still always believe we’re the best team,” said DeWitt, a sophomore who will be a big part of next year’s Kennewick lineup. “It won’t be easy to forget this. It will motivate me and the guys coming back to get back here.”
Steven Sordahl scored three of Kennewick’s four runs.
Kennewick 001 021 0 — 4 9 0
Mt. Spokane 300 000 4 — 7 9 2
Colton Plew, Mark Driver (5) and Dylan Wilbert; Cooper Smith, Blake McDonald (5) and Jake Leavey. Highlights—Steven Sordahl (K) 3R; J.J. Hancock (K) RBI; Charlie DeWitt (K) 2x4, 2B, 2 RBI; Josh Kutzke (K) RBI; Quentin LaFontaine (K) 3x4; McDonald (MtS) 2B, 2R, 2 RBI; Jordan Fitzpatrick (MtS) 2x4, 2 2B, R; Drew Rasmussen (MtS) 2B, RBI; Tanner Conroy (MtS) 2x3; Connor Cantu (MtS) HR, R, 4 RBI.