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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Holy Grail’: Mt. Spokane baseball chases elusive state title, faces familiar Kennewick in semifinal

The Greater Spokane League has had its fair share of state champions. Just this year, Mead’s volleyball, girls cross country and wrestling teams have brought first-place trophies home from state venues.

But in the 49 years the state has been handing out a championship trophy in the sport, no one from the “league of champions” has won a state title in baseball.

There have been six runners-up, including MLB Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg’s second-place North Central team in 1978.

Mt. Spokane has an opportunity to change the situation this weekend.

The Wildcats (22-5) face Kennewick (24-3) in state semifinal at 4 p.m. Friday at Gesa Stadium in Pasco. With a win, they would advance to the State 3A title game at 7:15 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s almost mythical in a way that a Spokane team has never won a state title at a big school,” Mt. Spokane coach Alex Schuerman said at practice Tuesday at the school.

“I think that’s so odd, because in every other sport that I can think of team sport-wise, we’ve won plenty of state titles … it’s like this holy grail in a way for the baseball coaches in the area that know the history of it.”

Schuerman said his players know the history, but are concerned more about the present.

“The funny thing about these guys is they don’t worry about that kind of stuff, which is awesome,” he said.

“They really don’t really think about historical stuff or even the opponent they’re playing to that regard. They just go play, ‘ OK, who’s pitching? Let’s hit that guy.’ ”

Mt. Spokane becomes the 11th GSL team to qualify for the state “final four” and the first since the Wildcats accomplished the feat in 2014 when they finished third.

“I’m super excited,” senior Jaxson Davis said. “I mean, it’s awesome to go out and compete in a Final Four.”

Pitcher Sam Martens said the team is aware of the last Wildcats team that reached the state semifinals.

“This time we want to go farther than what happened last time,” he said. “We’ve been talking to (Schuerman), telling him, ‘It’s gonna happen.’ We’re not gonna give up.

“I think this is the team right here to do it and get the job done.”

With 10 seniors on the team, Martens said there’s plenty of leadership to go around.

“This’ll be the last time I play with these guys,” he said. “I’ve played with them all four years and it’s really been fun. I’ll definitely miss every single one of them.”

The Wildcats come into Friday’s semifinal as the No. 10 seed against third-seeded Kennewick, a program against which Mt. Spokane has plenty of history.

“Kennewick, we have a real healthy rivalry,” Schuerman said. “We seem to show up against each other in the playoffs yearly.”

Kennewick beat Mt. Spokane 9-7 in a District 8 semifinal game on May 10, forcing the Wildcats to win to consecutive loser-out games to even reach the regional round of state.

Davis’ father played for Kennewick and he has a cousin on the current team, so the rivalry has even an extra little kick for him.

“I think all the pressure’s on (Kennewick),” Davis said. “I mean, they’re the (No.) 3 seed, we’re the 10 seed. All the pressure’s on them, and I think we should just play free.”

“It is weird to play someone from your own region that’s a little more familiar to you,” Schuerman said. “Part of it is good because you know your opponent and we know that we played with them the last time. So, I think there’s a little bit of confidence that brews from the familiarity of it.”

The 19-year head coach also said it doesn’t matter who is in the dugout across from you or what you’re seeded once you reach the semifinals.

“I think at the state tournament, you can kind of throw seeding out the door,” Schuerman said. “It’s a bunch of good teams. It’s just whoever gets hot, plays well at the right time is gonna be successful. But yeah, we don’t mind being maybe the underdog on paper, because I think that puts a little bit more pressure on the other teams.”

If the Wildcats are feeling any pressure, they aren’t admitting to it.

“Our mantra for the last few weeks has just been: ‘Stay loose.’ Trying to stay loose and focused,” Schuerman said.

“We’re all just grinders,” Davis said. “I don’t think we’re the most talented team, but we definitely want to win. We don’t give up. Like, if we go down by a lot, we won’t quit out there. And we’ll fight our way back and try and make it a game.”

Last Saturday, Mt. Spokane pulled away from seventh-seeded Lynnwood 11-1 in a first-round game, then later in the day ousted No. 2 Lake Washington 5-4 at Mount Si High School.

“It was 2-0 through four, it wasn’t like we blew them out early,” Schuerman said of the game against Lynnwood. “And then all sudden we kind of poured it on and I think that allowed us to be really loose against Lake Washington.”

Schuerman hopes his players carry that into the state semifinal against Kennewick.

“I think the biggest thing for these guys and for us as coaches, is just enjoy the journey, and know that this doesn’t happen every year,” he said. “You don’t get to go to the Final Four just because you want to be there.”