The Kiona-Benton baseball team is battled tested and ready for action.
After winning five loser-out games over the past two weeks, Ki-Be finds itself in the 1A state semifinals for the first time since 1997 after knocking off Cashmere (4-3) — winner of three of the last four Class 1A state titles — and Zillah (3-2) last weekend.
“They are extremely excited,” Bears coach Steve Woods said. “There have been a lot of negative things around Ki-Be this year, and to have something positive is nice. It shows the character of this team to put that aside and focus.”
The Bears (19-7) will play Woodland at 4 p.m. today at County Stadium in Yakima. The Beavers (24-1) have been ranked No. 1 all season.
“We haven’t been ranked all year and they have been No. 1 all year,” Woods said. “That’s the way we like it.”
Naches Valley plays Rochester at 7 p.m. today in the other semifinal. The winners meet in the title game Saturday at 7 p.m. The losers play for third-fourth place at 1 p.m.
The state tournament is foreign ground for the Bears. Kiona-Benton last won the 1A state title in 1996, beating Lakewood 7-0. The Bears were second in 1994 and 1995. Ki-Be also won the 2B state title in 1973 and 1975.
This year, senior right-hander James Deaton looks to put the Bears back in the title game. He is 8-2 this season.
“James is our go-to guy for sure,” Woods said. “He has played a lot of baseball and a lot of summer ball.”
Woods wouldn’t say if he was going to start Deaton in the first game, or save him for the second.
The Beavers are making their first appearance in the Final Four since 1985, where they lost their first game to Toledo 4-1.
“Everyone is so excited, including a lot of people in the community,” said Woodland coach Stephen Short, who admitted he hadn’t even heard of Ki-Be before last weekend. “We have had a good combination of great starting pitching, we hit the ball up and down the lineup and we play great defense.”
Woodland has its own ace in Trevor Huddleston, who is 9-0 this season, with a save.
“He is our top guy, and was last year, as well,” Short said. “I haven’t made the decision if we are going to start him (today). We are leaning that way, but we have four guys I’m confident in. They are all ready.”
The DeSales Irish are in the hunt for their third consecutive 2B state title this weekend.
They get started today with a 7 p.m. game against Adna at Wheeler Field in Centralia. DeSales beat the Pirates 5-0 in last year’s title game.
Napavine and Asotin play at 4 p.m. today in the other semifinal game. The winners will play at 1 p.m. Saturday for the title, while the losers play at 10 a.m.
The Irish beat Asotin 9-2 in the 2012 championship game.
DeSales has won 18 2B state titles dating to 1989, when they won their first. The Irish won seven in a row from 2000-06, and seven in a row from 1992-98. They also won in 2008.
w Annie Fowler: 582-1574; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: tchicequeen