Neither team had ever made it past the quarterfinals before this year.
PASCO — West Seattle senior Sam Hellinger carried a simple approach into Friday’s Class 3A semifinal against Mount Si: Give his defense the opportunity to make plays behind him.
But there was more weight to this game than that, and Hellinger admitted as much after West Seattle held on for a 3-1 win. West Seattle had never advanced to the final four of the state tournament before this year, let alone win a state championship.
The Wildcats will play Auburn Mountainview for the Class 3A state title at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“I’m a senior, and I’m kind of the leader on the team,” Hellinger said. “I needed to do my stuff and give our guys an opportunity to field the ball. We haven’t gone this far, so there’s a lot of pressure. But we got here so there’s no reason why we can’t win it.
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“It’s unbelievable, man,” Hellinger said. There’s no words for it. We’re on a run. We’ve just got to keep it going one more game, and we can make it even better.”
Indeed, West Seattle looked the part of a championship-caliber team against Mount Si, although Hellinger and Co. also got some help.
West Seattle took a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Tim Adams singled to drive in two runs. But that play was preceded by a Mount Si error and a misplayed ball in the outfield.
West Seattle coach Velko Vitalich, in his 26th season, has seen that scenario play out before, but usually with the roles reversed. He’s had teams good enough to make it this far, but he hasn’t had one with the talent and poise that this group has.
“The difference is we’ve played more relaxed,” Vitalich said. “We’ve been to state regionals a lot of times and looked nervous. Mount Si made some errors early and that looked like some of our teams in the past that were just too tight to play. But this team seems more relaxed.”
It didn’t hurt that Hellinger was on the mound.
He wasn’t perfect early — he stranded two runners in the first inning and left the bases loaded in the second — but he never buckled. He went all seven innings, gave up six hits, struck out four and didn’t allow an earned run, though it was his throwing error in the seventh inning that allowed Mount Si to get on the board.
Hellinger also batted in a run in the fifth for a little cushion.
“When he’s on the mound,” Vitalich said, “we think we’re going to beat anybody.”
Mount Si had the same number of hits — six — as West Seattle, but Mount Si had four errors compared to two for West Seattle.
Now West Seattle will get a chance to win the school’s first state title in baseball, which has brought out support from old players and fans.
“I’m getting texts all the time,” Vitalich said, “and I don’t even know who it is.”
Auburn Mountainview 6, Kennewick 4
Down two runs with only six outs to go? Auburn Mountainview senior Nick Brooks didn’t worry.
In fact, he was confident. And with good reason.
Brooks and his teammates have rallied from deficits all season and did so once again by scoring five runs in the sixth inning to beat Kennewick.
Auburn Mountainview will play West Seattle in the 3A state championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday. Neither school has won a state title in baseball.
“I was looking forward to the late innings,” Brooks said. “It’s the early innings that are kind of boring. When it gets to the end, those are the innings that we thrive on and those are the innings we play Mountainview baseball.”
Indeed, the script played out once more this postseason. Kennewick jumped all over Brooks, Mountainview’s ace and best hitter, in the first inning by scoring two runs. Brooks gave up two hits and two walks in the first inning and admitted afterward that he had jitters.
Mountainview coach Glen Walker said Brooks was so amped that he was throwing 89 mph in warm-ups, which he normally doesn’t do. Brooks went all seven innings and gave up four earned runs while striking out eight.
“The whole day building up to it, the music I was listening to; I was getting in the mood that this game means a whole lot to me, the team and the community,” Brooks said. “I felt like I had to come out and show up.”
Mountainview immediately answered Kennewick when a Brooks sac fly scored a run in the bottom of the first inning.
The two offenses went mostly silent as Brooks and his counterpart at Kennewick, Jarrod Molnaa, found a groove. Mountainview didn’t get more than one hit in an inning through the first five innings.
Then came the sixth.
Mountainview strung together a walk from Shawn Guinn, singles from Brice McCulloch and Tyler Friis and, just as important, three Kennewick errors. Joey Cassano delivered the biggest blow when he scored two runs with a triple to center field.
“That’s what this team has done time and time again,” Walker said. “Being down two runs late, we don’t press because we know we’re going to get there. No surprise.”