The Mid-Columbia Conference begins play today with a full slate of games. Here is a guide to the best of the best.
1. Triple Threat
There is no better player in the Mid-Columbia Conference — or possibly the state — than Hanford’s Isaac Benard.
The senior outfielder, who has committed to University of Washington, ran away with the triple crown last season, and unless teams walk him more than the 25 times they did last season, look for Benard to repeat his feat.
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Last season, he hit .541 with nine home runs, 38 RBIs and eight doubles. He scored a league-high 29 runs, and his nine homers were one less than the rest of the Mid-Columbia Conference combined. He struck out just eight times in 93 at-bats.
“Isaac is the best hitter I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching baseball,” said Hanford coach Tom Dewitz. “He has natural ability and good speed. He loves the game and he works at it.”
While Benard has always been solid at the plate, his defense in the outfield was less than stellar his sophomore year.
“He struggled in the outfield,” Dewitz said. “We thought of making him a catcher. Then he went to the eye doctor and found that he needed glasses. Ever since, his defense has noticeably improved, and I’m sure it has had some effect at the plate.”
2. Best of the rest
Richland infielder Gibson McGeorge swings the bat with authority (.397, 23 RBIs, 13 stolen bases last season), as do teammates catcher Tyler Kjarmo (.382) and Mitchell Piper, who has three homers in nonleague play. Add Kennewick’s JJ Hancock (.379), Pasco’s Justus Scott (.420, 16 RBIs) and Roger Ingram, Jr. (.417, 28 runs) and Hanford’s Aaron Enderlin in that group.
Walla Walla sophomore Ryan Kimball has emerged this season, belting a couple of homers and has two wins on the mound.
“Hancock swings it really well. I like him a lot,” Dewtiz said. “He and Isaac are the best two in the league. Kjarmo can swing it pretty good, too.”
3. Can Kennewick repeat as MCC champs?
“That’s the plan,” said Lions coach A.J. Marquardt, whose team finished third at the 3A state tournament last year. “Our ultimate goal is to play for a state title. We have a club that can do that. That’s not to slight anyone else in the league. We feel we have the best league in the state.”
Kamiakin’s Ryan Carter agrees.
“The great thing about our league, is we are battle tested,” Carter said. “This is the premier league in the state, in my opinion. You win this league, you have a chance at state. No one else plays doubleheaders or Tuesday-Friday doubleheaders. You have a bad game, you have to pick yourself up or the league will chew you up. You have to show up and compete everyday.”
The Lions were 13-1 in MCC play last year with a loss to Southridge. Kennewick lost pitchers Clayten Ayres and Jarrod Molnaa to graduation, along with a third baseman, shortstop, outfielder and designated hitter.
“You can’t replace two guys like that,” Marquardt said. “We also lost some major contributors on offense. We are trying to fill those gaps with younger players.”
Hanford went 6-0 in the nonleague portion of its schedule and looks to challenge Kennewick (6-0), while Walla Walla was 5-1 and Pasco, which won all of five games last season, was 4-2. Richland is 2-4, but Marquardt was quick not to count them out,
“It is expected they will be good every year,” Marquardt said of the Bombers. “Grant (Richardson) was thrown into a tough position following the legendary Ben Jacobs, but he has done a good job over there.”
Richland lost it’s top three pitchers from last season, but McGeorge is strong in relief.
“We put up some runs, but you need pitchers to put up zeroes,” Richardson said. “We are giving guys opportunities to prove themselves. We may go through 45 guys in our program until we find the guys who want to be there. At Richland High you have to prove it every day. There is always someone to take your spot.”
Until the cream rises to the top, Richardson will go with senior Connor Craig, junior Carson Miller and sophomore Cameron Jenkins.
4. King of the hill
The league coaches have Kamiakin senior left-hander David Marshall (signed with Seattle University) as the top man this season. He was 5-3 last season with 46 strikeouts.
The Braves also have senior RHP Trystan Drury (Tacoma Community College).
“He had a really good summer,” Carter said of Drury. “David is very polished, but he throws harder than David.”
The Lions may have lost a couple of good arms, but seniors Colton Plew and Mark Driver, along with sophomore Matthew Driver, have shown a lot promise.
Hanford has a couple of solid RHPs in Jake Anderson and Ryan Colson, and the Suns have a stable of LHPs led by Trenton Nett.
“We are still trying to figure things out,” said Southridge coach Tim Sanders of his pitching staff. “We are playing a lot of kids and it has been a great learning experience. We do have a lot of lefties and we will put them in at any moment and feel comfortable whether it be starter, reliever or closer. They know there are opportunities for them.”
5. Off to state
The 4A and 3A tournaments will be at Gesa Stadium in Pasco. The 2A-1A tournaments are at County Stadium in Yakima, and the 1B-2B are at Wheeler Field in Centralia. All tournament will run May 30-31.
Across the border, Stanfield/Echo, was second last year at the Oregon 2A state tournament last year. They are ranked No. 6 in the 3A poll this week. Their state finals are June 6 at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer.