Ben Miller picked a perfect time to rediscover his batting stroke.
In six playoff games he had 16 hits and helped the Valley Cannons qualify for this weekend’s Washington State Senior American Legion baseball tournament in Selah.
“Ben was in a slump and he absolutely went off,” said Cannons coach Robin Lund after his team won a pair of best-of-three series to earn the state trip. “He was on fire for us.”
Miller’s plight defined the state of the Cannons’ heavy hitters of late, said Lund.
“The middle of our order had been stale for awhile,” he said.
But the offense, particularly Miller and league batting leader Bill Tincup, who had 12 hits in six games, was in sync in the playoffs.
The result is a state trip after a third-place regular season finish. They play Saturday at 9:30 a.m.
“I always knew that no matter how poor we did in league, and we did so far as I’m concerned, I didn’t care as long as we were in the playoffs,” said Lund. “We went about our business.”
The Cannons needed two one-run victories, with an extra inning loss in between, during a tautly contested first playoff series with the Bandits. They won another one-run game to beat the league champion Blue Devils, also in a best of three playoff.
“Beating the Bandits was more nerve wracking than playing the Blue Devils,” said Lund. “We played awful against them all year, they actually owned us, but we had good success against the Blue Devils.”
The constants were Miller and Tincup. Against the Bandits Miller had seven hits and Tincup five. In the Blue Devils series, Miller had nine hits and Tincup seven. Each had four hits in Sunday’s 15-9 decider. Over the six-game set, Tincup hit five doubles and a triple.
Players like Adam Boots and Aaron Gilliland picked up the team, said Lund, when the others struggled. Pitcher Colin White won both games in relief against the Blue Devils.
Nine players, second baseman Ben Miller, pitcher Nate Bartlett, first baseman Adam Boots, pitcher Brian Chance, catcher Justin Folkins, pitcher Ryan Gardner, right fielder Raif Jochim, pitchers Colin and Kris White are from Central Valley.
Five, pitchers Tyler Hall, Jason Phillipe, shortstop Jeremy Isherwood, left fielder Chris Hilsabeck and catcher Brian Lawler are from West Valley. Centerfielder Bill Tincup and pitcher Brian Lamarche are from East Valley. Third baseman Aaron Gilliland, from Minnesota, is summering here with his father.
“When we started out our goal was to make the state championships,” said Lund. “We said we had a good chance if we kept all 17 players. And we did.”
Valley players dominate all-league
The 1997 AAA American Legion baseball all-league team selections explain the success of this year’s Valley teams.
Sixteen of 29 players on two teams come from local high schools.
Included were first-teamers Tincup, Hilsabeck and Chance from the Cannons, shortstop Aaron Fryer, pitchers Chris McMurtrey and Sean Ruscio, catcher Brett Haiar, outfielder Ken Beeler and designated hitter Josh Sheffield from the Bandits.
On second team were Miller, Isherwood, Jochim, Folkins and Phillipe from the Cannons, third baseman Andy Dunham from the Bandits and outfielder Sean Thacker from the Royals.
McMurtrey and Ruscio finished with eight wins apiece and respective 2.17 and 2.27 earned run averages.
Tincup beat out Sheffield for the batting title, .515 to .480. Fryer was fourth in league with a .430 average.
Sheffield led the league with five triples, was second with eight home runs and third with 46 runs scored.
Isherwood and Tincup were second in league with 16 doubles each and Isherwood was third with 40 RBIs.
Hilsabeck led the league with 30 stolen bases and 50 runs scored.
Spokane Athletic just misses
While one group of CV athletes, and their teammates were having success with the AAA Legion Cannons, another group from CV just missed advancing in the AA playoffs.
A pair of one-run losses ended the season for Spokane Athletic Supply.
SAS had ousted South Division runnerup Eagle Hardware/Pepsi from Shadle Park 13-3.
Following four scoreless innings against Hess/Wheeler the team lost 6-5. It tied the series, rallying from an 8-4 deficit to win game two 12-8 with eight runs in the sixth inning.
Game three was a wild one. Spokane Athletic lost 14-13, giving up the winning run with two outs in the seventh inning.
SAS led by as many as five runs and was ahead 13-12 entering the frame.
Jared Wilson had eight hits, including two three-hit games, during the playoffs. Joe Paventy and Ryan Nelson each had six, Chad Adamson had a four-hit game and Mike Tasca hit safely in all four playoff contests.
“There’s talent in the Valley, tons of it,” said Lund.
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