It’s fair to say that the Spokane Indians started turning around their season the first time they played the Everett AquaSox.
Until that series, June 26-30 in Spokane, the Indians had a 1-6 record and faced the daunting task of playing an AquaSox team that had opened the season 7-1.
But Spokane won that series 4-1 to begin a stretch in which it won 29 of 44 games and stamped itself as one of the Northwest League’s finest teams.
Spokane and Everett, which haven’t met since July 12, followed similar paths. Both wrapped up first-half divisional titles in late July and both swept best-of-3 divisional playoffs this week.
Now Everett will be back in Spokane for one last time, at 6:30 tonight to open the best-of-3 NWL championship series. Game 2 will be in Everett at 7:05 p.m. Saturday. The AquaSox will also host Game 3, if necessary, at 6:05 p.m. Sunday.
Being in this position is nothing new to Spokane, which owns three NWL championships since 2003 and has won all eight of its championship series since its first title in 1987.
Everett, however, hasn’t won a league title since 1985 and last played in the championship series in 2002.
But the AquaSox had the NWL’s best record during the regular season (49-27), including a 30-8 mark at Everett Memorial Stadium.
Spokane tied Yakima for the NWL’s second-best record (43-23) and won 27 of 38 home games.
Since their last get-together eight weeks ago, the teams have stayed mostly intact. Spokane had two of its top starting pitchers (Chad Bell, Miguel De Los Santos) promoted to Hickory (N.C.) in late July. Everett all-star third baseman Kevin Mailloux, who led the league in home runs, runs and slugging percentage, was promoted to Clinton (Iowa) on Wednesday.
“I looked at some of their boxscores and they looked like a lot of the same guys,” Spokane manager Tim Hulett said. “They have good pitching and they swing the bats well.”
Anthony Fernandez (8-3, 2.59 ERA) and Chris Sorce (9-2, 3.64) led Everett’s rotation. Sorce figures to start tonight’s game, but Fernandez pitched Tuesday’s divisional series clincher over Vancouver.
“Everett has some great starting pitchers and their relief pitchers come in and throw strikes,” said Spokane third baseman Michael Olt.
Outfielder Kevin Rivers (.332) and second baseman Terry Serrano (.307) power the AquaSox’s offense in the absence of Mailloux.
Spokane’s main offensive threats have been NWL most valuable player Jared Hoying (.325, 20 stolen bases, 51 runs batted in), first baseman Andrew Clark (.295, 41 RBIs) and Olt (.293, 57 runs, 43 RBIs).
The Indians figure to start Nicholas McBride (2-5, 4.24) in Game 1 and could turn to Tim Stanford (6-0, 1.66) for the second game. Staff anchor Randol Rojas (5-4, 2.79) worked Tuesday’s divisional clincher over Yakima.
Spokane won six of 10 games against Everett his season. Hulett said there’s no reason to change what’s been working for Spokane.
“We’ll try to play the way that we’ve played the whole year long,” he said. “We don’t try to adjust too much, especially at this level. If you get too much of a scouting report (on Everett), you get them thinking about too much instead of just playing the game.”
“They won the first half, so they’re going to be fresh,” Olt said. “That’s going to help them out a lot, but we’re the same way, so it’s going to be like two fresh teams going at it.”
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