By PAUL DELANEY
The Medical Lake AA American Legion baseball team will have plenty of practice time ahead of them this week when they host one of the pods in the Fourth of July Wood Bat Classic.
And that's a welcome thing, maybe not for players, but for coaches following ML's doubleheader loss last Wednesday to West Valley, 14-2 in the opener and 8-2 on the nightcap at Holliday Field. The losses to West Valley (5-9) dropped Medical Lake (3-9) into the basement of the American Division standings and were largely blamed on mental lapses that only practice and repetition can hope to cure.
The Cardinals began Wood Bat play Wednesday meeting the Kitsap Americans and Yakima Valley Peppers. They play the Regina Mets from Saskatchewan at 4:30 today (July 5) and Caldwell, Idaho's Vallivue Titans at 7 p.m. The top team out of the Medical Lake pod moves into play Friday. So this practice is the real deal.
It was hard to get the memory of the twin losses out of the mind of Medical Lake head coach Kerry Kelly, especially the first game that featured an umpire calling an unheard of six balks in one half inning.
Never in his lengthy time in baseball as not only a player and coach, but also 22 years spent in the blue uniform of an umpire, has Kelly seen an inning like he witnessed Wednesday. Subbing as the game's scorekeeper, Kelly gave up the coaching duties that night to assistant coach Rob Beamer.
“I did chat a little bit with him (the umpire) in between games,” Kelly said. “He said the pitcher (Joey Beamer) wasn't coming to a pause, which was absolutely absurd.”
The balks led to West Valley's two big early innings in which the visitors rolled a 9-0 lead after three innings. What Kelly was frustrated with was the umpire was calling balks and wasn't giving an explanation.
“Almost all umpires will say he's not coming to a pause, he started, he stopped, he turned his shoulders, whatever,” Kelly explained.
The incident took the focus away from Beamer and the coaching as well. “That's just a little bit too much to overcome in an inning,” Kelly said. “Most times on a night, out of 300-400 pitches, even if they get 275 of them right I'm pretty stoked.”
“We were just flat and we never really recovered,” Kelly said. “West Valley, they're decent, but it wasn't like it was one of the stronger West Valley teams.”
Medical Lake did get a little spark in their half of the third, scoring two runs in the third when Hudson Petek led off with a single. He advanced to second on a passed ball and third on a ground out. Shane Connors walked before Dylan Rushfeldt singled Petek for the first ML run. Roman Kissack singled home Connors.
“Roman's really been consistent at the plate,” Kelly said. “He's been hitting the ball middle to away; he's been a consistent hitter this summer, he's done a good job.” By not pulling the ball, it cuts down on weak ground balls to infielders, Kelly explained.
Medical Lake got off to a solid start in the nightcap scoring two runs in the first as Rushfeldt reached first on with an error and Kissack on a walk. Andy Hansen singled in Rushfeldt and a sac fly by Taylor Dormaier brought home Kissack.
Kelly credited West Valley for putting pressure on his team on the base paths. “What they did to us was that they were really aggressive on the base paths,” Kelly said. “They put it to us that way.”
That just goes to show, Kelly said, that even though a team might be hitting the ball well or throwing the ball in the mid-80 mile-per-hour range, if they get on base, have patience and put pressure on the defense that can generate a lot of runs.
“It was a night of missed opportunities,” Kelly said. “We should have had a pickoff play and third base and executed a rundown better.”
Another time a West Valley runner was caught between first and second base, “And it was almost like they were afraid to make a throw,” Kelly said.
And a ground ball hit to third with the bases loaded resulted in a throw to first for one out when it was possible they could have turned a double play by stepping on third base and throwing home, Kelly said.
“Those kind of things happen when you lose focus,” Kelly said, and the balk incident definitely helped Medical Lake lose focus. “It was just one of those nights where we didn't have anything going offensively or defensively.”
Medical Lake resumes league Legion play this Sunday with a pair of games at Asotin County at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday they host Cheney in games at 5 and 7 p.m.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.