A.J. Kennedy has been on the big stage before as a member of Cal State-Fullerton’s 2015 College World Series team.
Starting Thursday, the 21-year-old catcher will find out what the next stage looks like.
Kennedy helped the Tri-City Dust Devils punch their ticket to the Northwest League championship series beginning Thursday, going 3-for-5 with two RBIs and showing off a solid throwing arm from behind the plate in a 4-2 win over the Everett AquaSox.
“It’s unreal. I didn’t expect any of this coming in. It’s been an awesome ride my first year of pro ball,” said Kennedy, a 30th-round draft pick by the San Diego Padres this year. “It’s baffling how much of a team we are. It’s fun to be a part of.”
The win sealed Tri-City’s 2-0 sweep in the NWL North Division series, earning the Dust Devils their first trip to the NWL championship since 2011.
While Kennedy and Henry Charles were the stars of the night, Tri-City’s pitching staff has been the savior for the last few weeks holding the opponent to two or fewer runs for the seventh consecutive game.
“It’s just about maintaining their good work ethic and throwing strike one,” Kennedy said.
Dust Devils starter Joel Linares gave up two runs in 5 1/3 innings, while Jerry Keel and Elvin Liriano tossed the final 3 2/3 innings without allowing a run.
Keel got the win and Liriano earned the save.
Kennedy drove in the Dust Devils’ first run with an RBI single in the second and knocked in the final run with an opposite-field single in the eighth. Rod Boykin added an RBI double in the second.
Kennedy did his part to keep runners off the basepaths, throwing out Jordan Cowan twice trying to steal second.
“I just felt calm,” he said. “I’ve played in big games like this — the College World Series and the Super Regionals in Louisville — and learned from my past mistakes. I just treat it like any other game and play baseball.”
Both teams had to turn things around in short order after the Dust Devils beat the AquaSox 2-1 in 16 innings at Memorial Stadium to gain a 1-0 series lead.
Tri-City will wait for it’s opponent in the NWL championship series, which will be the winner between Hillsboro and Salem-Keizer at Ron Tonkin Field. If the Hops win, the series will begin Thursday in Hillsboro. If the Volcanoes win, the series will begin Friday in Salem.
Games 2 and 3 will be held Saturday and Sunday at Gesa Stadium, ensuring that the NWL champion will be crowned in Pasco.
The Dust Devils captured Game 1 on Monday in front of 1,054 fans at Memorial Stadium in Everett, as second baseman Kodie Tidwell drove in both Dust Devils runs in a 2-1 victory that went 16 innings and took five hours, 10 minutes to finish.
Tri-City trailed 1-0 in the seventh, but Tidwell hit a two-out single to drive in Carlos Belen, who singled, stole second base and took third on a passed ball. That tied the score at 1.
The teams kept throwing up zeros until the sixteenth inning, when Austin Allen hit a one-out double and took third on Henry Charles’ double to right. Mason Smith replaced Allen as a pinch-runner, and Tidwell brought him home with a single to right field to make it 2-1.
Seven Dust Devils pitchers combined to allow just eight hits and one unearned run. Brett Kennedy got things started for Tri-City, giving up two hits and two walksw hile striking out seven over four four scoreless frames. Will Headean allowed an unearned run on two Dust Devils errors in the fifth.
But between Headean and fellow Dust Devils relievers Samuel Holland, Nathan Foriest, Phil Maton, Luis Hernandez and Wilson Santos, the AquaSox managed just five hits over the next 11 innings. Santos got the win with two scoreless innings.
Charles finished with three hits to lead Tri-City, which had 15 hits and left 14 men on base.
Everett ended the game with just one run scored over it’s last 40 innings.
Urena in a slump
Tri-City left fielder and NWL All-Star Jose Carlos Urena is mired in a 4-for-40 slump over the last 12 games. He hit a one-out single in the second, sending Henry Charles to third, but he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. Urena was replaced in the lineup the next inning.
Third basemen ruled the day at Gesa Stadium. Jordan Cowan made a pair of nice leaping stabs on Tri-City line drives, but Belen made the play of the day, charging a slow roller from Logan Taylor with two outs in the sixth and runners in scoring position. Belen barehanded the ball and came up with an on-the-money throw to get Taylor by a half step.