When you are that “other guy,” the one who pitches behind Mt. Spokane’s Drew Rasmussen, it can be easy to get lost somewhere between the base paths and the stat sheets.
But when the Wildcats needed a win last week to advance to the state playoff finals, coach Alex Schuerman relied on No. 2 pitcher Cooper Smith. He kept Kennewick close for four innings until Wildcat teammate Connor Cantu went Hollywood with a grand slam to win it 7-4 in Mt. Spokane’s last at bat.
With two outs and two strikes against him, Cantu turned on a fastball and sent it sailing over the right-field wall to send a Greater Spokane League team into the semifinals for the first time in 11 years.
“That was the single-most exciting sports moment I’ve been a part of as a player or coach,” Schuerman said.
“Words can’t describe it. It was unbelievable.”
With the elimination of all other Spokane-area teams last week, Cantu’s blast kept only Mt. Spokane alive for a chance at the 3A title when it plays at 4 p.m. today against O’Dea at Pasco’s Gesa Stadium. A win puts the Wildcats in the championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday and a loss puts them in the third-place game at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Colton crushed Sunnyside Christian 19-0 and then relied on all-everything Jake Straughan, who pitched a complete game, to beat Liberty Christian 9-6 last week to advance to the 1B championship.
That game will be played at 4 p.m. Saturday against Oakville at Wheeler Field in Centralia.
Mt. Spokane will be traveling to the Tri-Cities for the second-straight weekend as the Wildcats will be chasing two histories: the GSL’s and the 17-year-old school’s first baseball state championship.
Seven times GSL schools have finished as the runner-up, league historian Mike Schock said.
And since 1973, only 13 GSL teams made it to the final four, with the last school being Shadle Park in 2003.
“The only Spokane-area school to ever win a state baseball title was the West Valley Eagles in 1978,” Schock said.
But that team was overshadowed the same year by North Central, which featured future Hall of Fame player Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg’s team lost the championship game on the same day West Valley won, but North Central got most of the attention.
“They are the team that time kind of forgot,” Schock said of the Eagles.
Schuerman said he was confident that this crew of Wildcats had the talent and makeup to get this far before the season even started.
“We never thought we couldn’t get here,” Schuerman said. “But we also respect the game enough to know that it takes a lot to get here. We just had to do it.”
When he couldn’t throw Rasmussen, who went 11-0 and is headed to Oregon State, Schuerman relied on a diminutive junior pitcher who doesn’t scare anybody with his fastball.
“Cooper has been really steady on the mound,” Schuerman said. “He’s very much a control pitcher with a good array of off-speed pitches.”
Smith, who went 4-1 with an ERA of 0.95, throws a curve and knuckleball in addition to his fastball that tops out in the low 80s.
“His off-speed stuff is so good it makes his fastball look faster,” Schuerman said.
The team also got quality contributions from senior Blake Macdonald, who pitched the last three innings in the win against Kennewick and has been blasting big hits all year long.
While Cantu’s mammoth shot stole the show, Schuerman said right fielder Jordan Fitzpatrick may have been the team’s most valuable player last weekend.
“He had four hits and had four diving catches, including three in the Kennewick game. And, he threw a guy out at home plate in the Hanford game,” Schuerman said of Fitzpatrick.
Without those diving catches, Cantu’s home run would not have been enough to win the game, he said.
The coach also praised the steady play of infielder Nick Cain, who singled to start the rally in the win over Kennewick and catcher Jake Leavey, who hit .414 this year. His batting average was among the league’s best, but it was only third best on the team behind Macdonald (.434) and Rasmussen (.429.)
This marks the third time Schuerman has led Mt. Spokane into the state playoffs in his 11 years at the helm.
“This is furthest Mt. Spokane has ever made it. We had never won a game in the final 16,” he said. “If we win, we play for the title. It makes us feel really good.”