The Mid-Columbia Conference baseball season throws out the first pitch in league doubleheaders Friday afternoon, with few surprises thus far.
As expected, traditional powers Kennewick (6-0) and Southridge (5-1) are off to hot starts. However, the Chiawana Riverhawks (5-0-1) also are out of the gate fast.
“The hard work was put into the offseason, and the commitment part has been big for us,” third-year Riverhawks coach Dave Price said. “All these things factor in. We’ve built the program around these kids, and now they’re at an age where they finally feel confident they can do something in this conference.
“This is such a tough conference.”
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The Riverhawks have a pair of returning all-leaguers in second-team outfielder Andrew Vargas and honorable mention second baseman Troy Simpkins (now shortstop). But Chiawana has been getting contributions up and down the lineup, including Brayde Hirai at the plate and on the mound, and Anthony Vega moving over to third from short.
Hirai and Vargas, both lefties, have been big hits on the mound.
Chiawana gets a big test right off the bat with Southridge, which is stocked with proven talent: returning MCC first-team picks Ryan Sanders (infielder) and Jake Kirchhoff (catcher); and second-team infielders Ethan Sanders and Kyle Harvey, and outfielders Jashaun Simon and Bryce Grigg. The pitching staff is anchored by Bradley Morgan, last year’s MCC Pitcher of the Year and All-Area Player of the Year.
“They’re so well-coached,” said Price, who was an assistant to Suns coach Tim Sanders before taking over at Chiawana. “Offensively, they swing the bats well. They play great defense, put pressure on your defense. They do so many things effectively.
“As a staff, we’re going to figure out where we’re at.”
Sanders is the dean of the MCC coaches. In his 19th season at the Suns’ helm, he’s the only coach the program has had.
New coach, familiar face
On the flip side, Lenny Ayres is the first-year head coach at Kennewick, though the veteran baseball man is no stranger to area ballfields. He played for the Lions in the late 1980s before being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies and playing three years of minor league ball. He spent the past six years as pitching coach for the Lions under A.J. Marquardt, who stepped down after last season.
No surprise, Kennewick is stocked with pitching, including returning first-teamer Matt Driver, who is nearly all the way back from a bulging disk in his back that has limited his time in the early season. Additionally, the Lions have big lefty Gerald Hein and the live arm of sophomore Trent Sellers, who has committed to Washington State.
Senior shortstop Dillon Plew also is WSU-bound. Plew, Driver, first-team DH (and catcher) Garrett Dixon and honorable mention outfielder Tyler Detloff have been invaluable in and out of the dugout.
“All of ’em are leaders,” Ayres said. “They come to practice and work hard every day. You don’t have to do a lot of coaching when you got leaders like that.”
Kennewick opens against Walla Walla (2-2) at Roy Johnson Field. The Blue Devils have a strong core in do-everything first-teamer Mitch Lesmeister and all-league DH/pitcher Ryan Kimball.
Also on deck
Also Friday, Richland (3-3) is at Pasco (2-4), and Hanford (2-3) faces host Kamiakin (4-2).
All doubleheaders begin at 4 p.m. except for Hanford-Kamiakin, which begins at 2 p.m. at LaPierre Field.
The Bombers have the MCC’s other returning first-team player in shortstop Griffey March.
The consensus among coaches is there won’t be any easy games in the MCC, which compiled a 29-15-1 record in nonleague games. The Bulldogs’ record is deceiving: Three of those losses were by one run.
“You aren’t walking through this league,” Ayres said.
Kevin Anthony: 509-582-1403