Lewis and Clark coach Steve Bennett parlayed a second-place finish among Greater Spokane League 4A teams into a chance at a State berth.
But the Tigers were rewarded with a matchup with GSL-champion Gonzaga Prep. Those teams square off at 7 p.m. Monday at Avista Stadium. The winner earns a regional berth, while the loser will play the winner of Central Valley versus Ferris for the other regional berth in 4A.
“They are complete,” Bennett said, referring to the Bullpups, who finished 17-1 in league for the second straight year. “They are an excellent defensive baseball team. You have to earn everything you get from them.”
Bennett wouldn’t confirm which pitcher he will start but said it would either be Karver Pate or Ethan LaValley. Pate led the GSL with 83 strikeouts and LaValley was third with 69.
“I think we are going to get LaValley,” Gonzaga Prep coach Brian Munhall said. “But it doesn’t matter. We beat them both. We plan on beating either one of them again.”
Gonzaga Prep (18-2, 17-1) blasted Lewis and Clark 10-1 at home behind seven strikeouts by Justin Blatner. Two days later at Hart Field, LC (13-7, 12-6) scored two runs in the seventh and had the tying run on third, but Steven Machtolf was able to finish off his complete-game with a 4-3 win.
“We probably should have lost that second one,” Munhall said. “We know we are going to get a battle.”
Munhall will start Blatner, the reigning GSL MVP, who battled an oblique injury early in the season but has been hitting well of late with a .350 batting average. He joins Jordan Rathbone (.441), Anthony Gosline (.397), Mason Kuebler (.381), Rhett Larson (.370), Steven Machtolf (.326) and Jack Machtolf (.310), who all rank among the league batting leaders.
“For us to beat them, we obviously are going to have to play our best game,” Bennett said. “We have to have some guys come through when we have an opportunity to push a run or two across.”
In the loser-out game Monday, Ferris (11-9, 10-8) will open the postseason by taking on a Central Valley team that is almost its carbon copy.
“We are pretty similar,” Ferris coach Jim Sharkey said. “It’s a pretty even matchup.”
The teams split their GSL games. On April 4, Central Valley’s Austin Bergdahl threw a complete-game four-hitter in the 6-2 home win over the Saxons. In that game, all nine Bears’ batters got a hit.
“They swing pretty well throughout the order,” Sharkey said. “When they struggle, it’s on the mound and defense. Sort of like us.”
In the second game between the schools on April 7, the Saxons pulled off a 7-6 win behind the pitching of Griffin Davis and three singles from Tim Yoshihara, who surged to the top of the league standings and won the batting title with a .540 batting average for the regular season.
“Yoshihara is really hot going into the playoffs,” Sharkey said. “We hope to have him kick-start us at the top of the inning. He did it against everybody.”
Central Valley (9-10, 9-9 GSL) will be without the services of leadoff hitter Colton Peha, who also had the best average (.373) on the team, coach Barry Poffenroth said.
“Peha got a concussion on Tuesday … in a collision with a shortstop. He’s done for seven days no matter how he feels, which kills us,” Poffenroth said. “He’s been our guy.” Instead, Poffenroth said he’ll probably move up No. 2-hitter Tyler Pichette, who is also among the league’s best hitters with a .367 batting average.
On defense, the Bears’ strategy will be to try to limit Ferris’ Yoshihara, Tanner Parker and All-GSL catcher Alex Jondal.
“Our game plan … is not let those three guys hurt us,” Poffenroth said. “I think we can take care of the rest of them. But we can’t let those three guys beat us.”
Sharkey said he expects his team to face Central Valley’s Bergdahl, who finished with a record of 5-3, an ERA of 3.48 and he finished fourth in the league with 67 strikeouts.
To counter, Sharkey said he’ll throw Davis, who had a record of 5-2, an ERA of 3.38 and 50 strikeouts.
“They are both power pitchers and they both struggled with control at times,” Sharkey said. “I would expect whoever has better command in that game should win.”
Poffenroth agreed, noting that his team lost four one-run games.
“These guys are capable of beating anybody,” he said. “So, I’m really happy how they battled.”
Ferris’ Sharkey said his team hit a slump about two-thirds through the season but the Saxons, too, scratched their way back.
“Last year, we had a better year but didn’t get out of districts,” he said. “We would happily trade that this year.”