The contrast between Grays Harbor’s two surviving high school baseball teams scarcely could be greater.
Seeking its first-ever state baseball championship — but second state sports title in six months — Montesano will face a league rival for the fourth time in a state semifinal.
In search of its second state baseball crown in five years, Lake Quinault will challenge a far less familiar foe in a winner-take-all title showdown.
Montesano (23-1) takes on Tenino (15-10) in a state 1A semifinal scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at Yakima’s County Stadium. The winner will play either Cashmere or Cascade of Leavenworth for the state championship at 4 p.m. Saturday. Cashmere is the defending state champion.
Advancing directly into the title game by virtue of a regional title last week, Lake Quinault (13-6) meets Liberty Christian of Richland (18-5) for the state 1B crown at 4 p.m. Saturday at Rotary Field in Ellensburg. There is no semifinal in the 1B classification, since that class has only an eight-team state bracket.
Montesano played Tenino three times in Evergreen 1A League play. The Bulldogs won them all, but only an 8-0 triumph was particularly decisive. Even in that game, Monte did all its scoring in the final three innings.
The Bulldogs also came from behind for a 9-8 win and edged the Beavers, 4-1, wrapping up the league title with the latter victory.
“Beating somebody four times in a season is a challenge,” Montesano coach Mike Bruner said warily. “We’ve got our work cut out, no doubt about it.”
To date, Tenino has followed an improbable route in baseball not dissimilar from the road Monte took to the state football championship last fall.
Having claimed the league’s fourth and final district berth by virtue of winning a tiebreaker over Elma, the Beavers caught fire in postseason play. They were second at district and then captured a rain-delayed Anacortes regional Sunday by topping another Evergreen 1A club, Rochester, 4-3, in the title game.
Like the Bulldogs in football, however, Tenino didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. Blessed with fine athletes who were instrumental in winning a league title in boys basketball, the Beavers were projected for second (behind Montesano) in baseball in most pre-season estimates.
Tenino possesses two fine pitchers in Zeb Chamberlain and Kolton McKitrick, each of whom authored complete-game victories at regionals. Zack Chamberlain (Zeb’s older brother) and multi-sports standout Devante Harris are among the leading Beaver hitters.
“They’re solid in all aspects of the game,” Bruner said. “They put the game in motion, they compete and I would say their biggest strength is they play disciplined baseball. They’ve got good athletes on the team.”
While leaning toward going with Layne Bruner, his son and staff ace, Coach Bruner hasn’t made a final determination regarding his starting pitcher in the semifinals. Senior Matt Jensen, Monte’s No. 2 pitcher, threw a gem against Tenino in the league clincher.
“We’re lucky to have a pretty good one-two punch,” Coach Bruner said. “When Matt Jensen is on, he can shut down anybody.”
Layne Bruner (9-0 for the season) lowered what had been an 0.27 earned run average in allowing only one unearned marker in eight innings against Mount Baker and Woodland at regionals.
The Bulldogs also received outstanding production throughout the lineup in those two contests. Bruner slugged two homers and drove in seven runs at regionals. Leadoff batter Shad Rogers and ninth-place hitter Richard Smith each had four hits in the two games, while Zack Nelson had three and Tucker Ibabao, Elliot Mendenhall and Kody Usher two hits apiece.
“These are big games,” Coach Bruner said. “The biggest thing for us is to play the same type of baseball we have all year long.”
The other 1A semifinal, interestingly, will also match teams facing off for the fourth time this season. Caribou Trail League champion Cashmere topped Cascade in all three previous contests, but two of those games were decided by one run and the third was tied entering the seventh inning.
Contrary to most assumptions, this will not be the first Lake Quinault-Liberty Christian meeting in baseball. Veteran Quinault coach Keith Samplawski said the two clubs collided “eight to 10 years ago” on one of the Elks’ sojourns to Eastern Washington.
Nevertheless, the Patriots from Richland represent an unknown quantity as far as the Elks are concerned. Samplawski said sources differ on whether hard-throwing Taylor Lindquist (8-1, 2.60 earned run average) or off-speed specialist Brandon Peterson (3-1, 1.30 ERA) is their pitching ace.
“Preparing for this team team is pretty tough,” Samplawski said. “I don’t who’s pitching. I would rather be playing a team for the fourth time. I don’t like flying blind.”
In other respects, Liberty Christian should be relatively easy to scout. The Richland-based private school operates an elaborate baseball web site, complete with statistics in 39 offensive categories and professional-quality graphics that chart the outcome and direction of every play the Patriots have made this season.
Liberty Christian downed Wilbur-Creston, 13-6, and Colton, 2-1, in regional play last weekend in Spokane.
Corbin Steele leads the Patriots in batting with a .441 average, followed by Lindquist at .426.
“I know their 1 through 5 hitters are really strong,” Samplawski said. “They’re good all-around but the definite strength is pitching, according to other people.”
With senior right-hander Richy Carlile on the mound for the Elks, Samplawski is looking for a low-scoring game.
“We’ve been able to take extra bases and get in scoring position better than most teams I’ve had before,” the Quinault coach noted. “But we’ll probably live or die with how Richy pitches. If he can hit his locations and throws hard, he’ll keep us in the game and our hitters will have to win it for us.
“We know, if we win, it’s probably not going to be a high-scoring game,” Samplawski added.
Erratic early in the season, the Elks have progressed recently largely through greater defensive continuity.
“We’ve had up to seven, eight, nine errors in a game,” Samplawski said, “but we’ve been tightening it up lately and the kids have been playing great.”
Dalton Lines is Lake Quinault’s leading hitter with a .533 average. He has also scored 37 runs and stolen 28 bases. Carlile is batting .434 with 18 steals, while Tyler Colton, hitting .425, has driven in a team-high 28 runs.
When Quinault won its previous state baseball title in 2008, only one game was played at regionals and the semifinals and title contests were conducted on the same weekend.
Samplawski said such a format would have been advantageous to the Elks this year, as he believes Lines would have matched up favorably with other No. 2 pitchers in either the semifinals or the championship game.