Mark Driver knows a little about survival of the fittest. As the fourth of Mike and Kathleen Driver’s nine children, he has had to stake his claim on everything from the last piece of chicken to a decent shower time.
With that said, the Rogers Pirates will not pose a challenge in today’s District 5/8 loser-out game that he can’t handle.
As the Kennewick Lions’ ace this season, Driver (8-1) has the team sporting a 19-1 record and well on their way to another appearance in the 3A state championship bracket.
“He’s done a fantastic job being the senior leader on the bump for us,” said Kennewick coach A.J. Marquardt. “He’s had great starts against good opponents. He sets the tempo for us.”
Kennewick hosts Rogers (5-15) at 4 p.m. at Roy Johnson Field. In the other District 5/8 games today, Hanford (17-3) hosts University (5-13) at 5 p.m., Southridge (7-13) is at Shadle Park (14-6) at 4 p.m., and Kamiakin (5-14) is at Mt. Spokane (16-4) at 4 p.m. All games are loser-out.
Driver, who suffered his first loss last week to Hanford, said he’s ready for today’s game.
“(Against Hanford) my balls seemed to do a good job hitting the barrels and none found my defenders,” he said. Hanford came to hit. (Today) is just another game. It’s really exciting. I’m going to go out and compete the best I can. There is always pressure not to let people down, but in terms of pressure or lack of confidence, there is none of that.”
A trait Marquardt has come to count on every week.
“He is a very intelligent, mature young man,” Marquardt said. “He knows how to prepare himself and has a good work ethic. There is confidence in preparation.”
The Driver family is all about sports. Dad Mike was a kicker on the freshman football team at University of Oregon, mom Kathleen played basketball at Enterprise (Ore.) High School, brother Joseph was on the Lions’ 2008 state championship baseball team, and sister Anne Marie was a three-sport athlete at Kennewick and went on to compete on the Gonzaga crew team.
Older brother John played football and baseball at Kennewick, younger brother Matt is a sophomore and one of the Lions’ top pitchers this season, and little guys Ambrose and Dominic also play baseball. Sister Audrienne, 11, is involved in competitive dance.
The Driver brothers also play football, but Mark prefers baseball.
“I love the mental aspect of baseball,” he said. “It helps a lot to have a brother on the team. We push each other. It’s friendly competition.”
Pitching has been a weapon for the Lions this season, but they also are a quality hitting team and have averaged 10 runs a game.
“The basic thing is daily preparation,” Marquardt said. “It is a purposeful practice. Everything is high speed and intense. It’s an evolution. We have to play some sophomores and freshmen. By the time they are seniors, they are good leaders and they take care of business.”
University at Hanford: The Falcons, who dropped a pair of games to Walla Walla early in the season, split with Kennewick in the final Mid-Columbia Conference doubleheader to finish with the MCC’s No. 2 seed. Hanford faces an unknown in the Spartans.
“I have not taken a look at them yet,” Hanford coach Tom DeWitz said of the Spartans. “As a general rule, my coaching style is to worry about ourselves and get better every day. I told the guys I would like to give the guys we play Tuesday the same game we gave Kennewick (12-0 win). We can do that, we’ll be fine.”
Barring any unforeseen problems, the Falcons will throw ace Jacob Anderson (8-1) against University. Anderson needed just 43 pitches over five innings to beat Kennewick last Tuesday.
“We have a solid pitching staff and we have several guys who can get it done on the mound,” DeWitz said. “Jacob will be our man. Another coaching style of mine — I respect all and fear none. I don’t overlook anyone. It’s a loser-out game and you can’t afford not to give your best game.”
The Falcons have been solid at the plate all season, averaging eight runs a game. They have been shut out just once — by Walla Walla.
“I like to score runs,” DeWitz said. “Hitting is contagious and I like it when we get it going. It has been a team effort. (David) Juergens has been in the eight hole all season and has been very productive. I get excited when it gets to the 7-8-9 hitter, then Isaac (Benard) comes up. With Isaac hitting leadoff, (Anthony) Porcaro in the two hole and Brady Heid in the three hole, they were very tough against Kennewick. If we can get that production (combined 10-for-19, three home runs, three doubles, one triple), we’ll be OK.”
Hanford first baseman Jamie Hopp, who missed the Kennewick doubleheader last week after taking a baseball to the eye in practice the day before the game, will be back in the lineup.
“He was sore the other day and had a shiner,” DeWitz said. “He has been taking care of it. He will be back out there Tuesday. We are a better team with him out there.”