Wood Bat helps prime Cheney for playoffs
Summer Hawks go 3-2 in pod action, open final week of regular season with convincing win over West Kootenay
By JOHN McCALLUM
Cheney Summer Hawks' manager Kadeem Smalls knew his team would be rusty returning to competition after an unscheduled two-week layoff.
He was right, but fortunately Cheney's American Legion AA squad was in the right venue to shake that rust and get into form to begin a run to the post season. The Summer Hawks went 3-2 in the Cheney pod of the annual Spokane American Legion Wood Bat Classic, culminated by an 11-7 win over the Central Washington League's fourth-place Yakima Valley Peppers.
The rust showed in Cheney's opener July 4 against the Helena Representatives. The team from Montana capitalized on three errors to rally from a 2-0 deficit with five runs in the fifth inning en route to a 6-4 win. The Summer Hawks scored twice in the sixth to pull within one, but no closer.
“Defensively we gave them way too many outs,” Smalls said of the fifth inning.
Robby Cook took the complete game loss on the mound. Jacob Christianson was 3 for 3 at the plate with an RBI while Connor Netz went 2 for 3 and Tyler Gustafson was 1 for 3 with 2 RBIs.
Cheney evened its mark at 1-1 in the nightcap with an 8-0, five-inning win over fellow Spokane American Legion team Deer Park. The Summer Hawks got all eight runs in the third with every player scoring except two, and Smalls said those two, Josh Arthur and Gustafson, had an RBI each.
Austin Harding helped things along with a 2 RBI double, going 2 for 2 overall. Tanner Smith got the win, showing poise on the mound, Smalls said, in giving up five hits in the shutout.
Thursday the Summer Hawks ran up against eventual tournament champions the Spokane Dodgers. The 16U White club program team won both their games Wednesday by an average 11 runs, 9-3 over Mountain View and 17-1 over Deer Park, and jumped on Cheney quickly with six runs in the bottom of the first, cruising to a 10-2 win.
The Summer Hawks gave them a bit of help, committing two costly errors and issuing six walks overall. Cheney's only runs came in the first when Tristan Flippo lead off with a single, stole second and third and scored on a wild pitch, and in the third when Netz singled, stole second and scored on a throwing error.
Flippo was 2 for 3 with four steals. Sawyer Sims took the loss on the mound.
In the finale the Summer Hawks scored five first inning runs and cruised to an 10-1 win over Meridian, Idaho's Mountain View, the big blow coming on Tanner Smith's 2RBI double. Smith and Sims were both 2 for 3 with a pair of RBIs while Cook was 2 for 3 and one RBI.
Harding got the win, pitching efficiently by working the count and using good location to strike out five Toros hitters and just as important, Smalls said, 10 groundball outs while throwing just 61 pitches over five innings.
Going 2-2 in the pod earned Cheney a game Friday with Yakima Valley, who went 2-2 in the Medical Lake pod. Netz singled and scored on Harding's sacrifice fly to give Cheney a 1-0 lead in the first.
Christianson singled and scored on Sims RBI single to make it 2-0 in the second. The Peppers made it 2-1 with a run in the fifth, but in the sixth Christianson walked and eventually came around to score on three wild pitches.
Netz got the win and helped himself offensively with a pair of singles. Also adding singles were Flippo and Cook.
Smalls said Wood Bat Classic action helped the Summer Hawks get back in the swing of things for the final week of league play. Cheney got that off to a good start Sunday with a 15-7 win over visiting West Kootenay from Trail, British Columbia.
Cheney took the early lead with four runs in the top of the first, eventually opening a 12-2 advantage before the Diamondbacks from north of the border closed the gap with five runs in the sixth, but got no closer.
Harding was an “unbelievable” 5 for 5 with 4 RBIs, banging out two singles, a double and two triples, needing a home run to complete the cycle. Netz was 3 for 5, Flippo was 2 for 4 with 3 RBIs, Smith 2 for 4 and an RBI and Gustafson 1 for 4 and 2 RBIs in Cheney's 16-hit attack.
Cook got the win on the mound, with Kyle Krieger relieving him in the fourth. Smalls said it was not one of Cook's better outings, but he pitched efficiently when it counted.
“He did enough to get the job done, and that was what was needed,” he added.
Cheney is 11-7 overall, 8-5 in Spokane American Legion American League action, third place and one-half game behind University at 8-4 and five back of division leader Asotin County, 15-2. The Summer Hawks have a lot of baseball left, six games over five days, and came out of the Wood Bat Classic with their bullpen in good shape, starting pitching that seems confident and an offense that's producing, leading Smalls to feel they can possibly do better than the No. 3 seed.
“We're in the mix,” he added.
John McCallum can be reached at email@example.com.