Spokane’s American Legion Senior (AAA) League could conceivably send four teams to next week’s state tournament. The league could just as easily have no state entrants.
A new regional format is scattering three teams, the Bandits, Northstars and Blue Devils, to the four winds.
“The idea was to try to get the best eight teams there,” District 5 commissioner Mike Padden said via e-mail. “But it certainly has some drawbacks.”
The Bandits, by virtue of their league title, play tonight in the Spokane Regional at 7 p.m. against Wenatchee at Shadle Park’s Al K. Jackson Field, following a game between Vancouver and Longview. Play continues on Saturday.
The perennial league champion Bandits, who finished fourth in state last year, ended this year with a 15-5 record. That put the Bandits, who have players from Ferris, Gonzaga Prep, University and St. George’s, ahead of the late-charging Northstars, who finished 11-9.
“I think we’ve got good players,” coach Steve Hertz said. “U-Hi had a great spring, Ferris was really good and Prep made the playoffs.”
Max Manix, a Gonzaga University redshirt, and University’s Billy Moon, who took time off the first part of the season, have lately bolstered a pitching staff that was carried early by high school teammates Tyler Olson and Danny Jordan and Ferris’ Evan Ewing.
Several players from Greater Spokane League champion University, led by Jordan, have provided offensive pop.
“The playoffs are a little more challenging than last year,” Hertz said of the new format. “All we had to do was win district. Now we have another series to go through. It is what it is. We’re excited to be still playing.”
While the Bandits play at home, the Northstars must travel to Selah and the Blue Devils to Bellevue in two of the other four four-team pods. Two teams from each advance to state, which begins Aug. 2 in Tacoma.
Coach Jim Wasem’s Northstars (Mead, Rogers, Mt. Spokane, Deer Park, Colville, Chewelah and Newport) won seven of eight league games in four doubleheaders between July 14 and 19 to finish second, then swept three playoff games.
Wasem cited recent pitching by Tyler Baldini and Jeff Kosoff from Mead, and steady play by Colville’s Trevor Fox, Rogers’ Jake Campbell and Andrew Durant, Mead’s Robert Murphy and Mt. Spokane’s Bryan Raynor for the late surge.
As for the new playoff format, he said that in the long run it will work out OK. Wasem added that he didn’t know if it was the right thing to do because of an added week of travel and extra expenses.
“Everyone is having a problem with money. Pullman couldn’t afford to go,” Wasem said. “But we’re capable of beating anybody.”