I love it when players live up to the billing.
A day earlier, Kennewick baseball coach A.J. Marquardt was extolling the talents of his star senior, and Tuesday at La Pierre Field, that player fit the bill.
No, not that player.
No doubt, Trek Stemp impresses every time he takes the field, and at least one scout walked away with some impressive numbers after the Lions' 7-5 win over the Braves — the first game of a CBBN 3A split, with Kamiakin taking the second game 4-3.
But the player Marquardt had been talking about was first baseman Jared Gonzales, who has been driving in runs for the last three years hitting in the middle of Kennewick's lineup.
His numbers Tuesday were not exceptional: 2-for-7, three RBIs and a couple of walks. But the thing about Gonzales is he does his job almost every time he steps to the plate.
Need some runners to get the inning going? He led off the second inning of the first game with a walk. Need to get a runner home from third? Sacrifice fly in the fifth, single to right in the seventh. The Braves put him on intentionally in the ninth when a base opened up.
"If he were a professional player, he would be the consummate professional," Marquardt said. "He works at it so hard. He's always early; he's always (staying) late. He likes the grind of the game of baseball."
Still, no one evokes a reaction from opposing fans quite like Stemp — Kamiakin's parents actually groaned a little whenever the Washington State signee stepped to the plate. But his fielding made them "ahhh."
Aside from handling all the routine stuff hit to short, making a quick exchange and strong throw, he also made a diving stop to kill one Kamiakin rally, and started the second game by tracking down a fly ball in none-to-shallow foul territory in left field.
Stemp recently received a letter from Major League Baseball informing him that he is considered among the top 200 prospects for the upcoming draft. He said it is something he will have to consider, deciding between going pro and being a Cougar next fall.
But right now, he added quite firmly, "I am a Lion."
Plenty to see: A lot of great defense played Tuesday, despite a couple of hiccups along the way.
On the Kamiakin side, Andrew Castillo — nicknamed "Turtle" despite his speed — made a diving catch in center to make sure the Lions didn't start the third inning with extra bases in the second game; and Tylor Machart equaled the feat on a dying liner to end Kennewick's three-run rally in the sixth and preserve a one-run lead.
The victim of both plays: Sam Guin.
The slick outfield play didn't end there. Steven Sordahl robbed Kamiakin's Jesse Houser with a diving catch in left, also in the second game.
The pitching was solid throughout. Stetson Plew was on a real roll for Kennewick, striking out seven in his six-plus innings of work before finally running into trouble in the first game. And if he couldn't get the win, then Clayten Ayres deserved it with 2 2/3 innings of hitless relief — eight up, eight down.
A couple of underclassmen shut down the Lions offense in Game 2: Sophomore David Marshall for six innings, and then junior Austen Hebdon for the seventh to get the save.
Interesting note on Hebdon. He tore the labrum in his left (glove) shoulder and can't, but he still pitches and plays first base.