The Tri-Cities has had its share of American Legion senior state champions over the years — seven over the last 50 years and four of those in the last two decades.
But those titles mostly have gone to players from the three Kennewick schools and Richland High School.
When the state tournament kicks off today in Spokane, one of the favorites and unquestionably the hottest team going is the gang from Hanford.
“I’m stoked,” said Flames coach Nat Roe, whose team has won 24 of 25 and is 34-18 overall. “We are all pulling in one direction. We lost one game in the month of July.”
Hanford plays Central Washington League rival Yakima Valley at noon on Jackson Field at Shadle Park High. Kennewick opens the five-day tournament at 9 a.m. against Centralia SoBe. The Twin City Titans cap the first day at 6 p.m. against Bellingham Post 7, with the Yakima Beetles and defending champ Lakeside Recovery playing at 3 p.m.
The champion advances to the Northwest Regional on Aug. 8-12 in Eugene, Ore.
The Flames’ success boils down to the simple fact that the one-school underdogs — the other four CWL teams in the tournament draw from two or more high schools — finally found enough pitching this summer to back up their always powerful hitting.
“When the season started, our hitting was a little rusty, but we have not wavered in our pitching,” Roe said, nodding to Colin Serkowski, Jacob Anderson, Nate Mitchell, Aaron Enderlin, Ryan Colson and Brandon Peterson and others have come through.
But it is impossible to overstate the importance of having five college players come back: Serkowski, catcher Jacob Browne, outfielders Trevor Jones and Finn McMichael and infielder Ryan Neal.
“They’re good and confident, and they’ve helped us a lot,” Roe said. “A bunch of college guys who have gone into the real baseball world, and they’re coming back reinforcing our style: playing hard and having fun.”
The Twin City Titans have been having plenty of fun this summer, and coach Pete Marquez said they have enough pitching to make a good run in Spokane.
“We’re pretty excited by the possibility,” he said. “We really feel we have a strong pitching staff that can get through the fourth, fifth day.”
Trystan Drury and Gibson McGeorge have delivered the goods at the back of the rotation, behind the likes of Mason Hilty, David Marshall, Levi Broeske and Cody Pedroza.
And you can’t talk about pitching without talking about the Kennewick Bandits, the CWL regular-season and district champions.
Their top three arms — Jarod Molnaa, Conner O’Neil and Clayten Ayres — are aces on any team, with plenty of depth behind them from Mark Driver, Connor Morfin, Addison Spivey, Colton Plew and on and on.
The true double-elimination tournament continues Sunday with a pair of loser-out games and two championship bracket games. Monday is the first semifinal between the two remaining unbeaten teams. The winner will need to win two out of three to claim the title, while the remaining teams are in must-win games.