Great Northern League baseball is bunched at the top.
Clarkston and defending champion Cheney are tied in first at 8-2 and Pullman is a half game behind at 7-2.
A key doubleheader Saturday and a single game a week from today should go far in deciding the league championship and district tournament seeding.
Clarkston graduated all but three starters from a team that a year ago advanced to state. Coach Bruce Bensching is pleasantly surprised by the Bantams’ play.
“Our hitting is better than I thought it was going to be,” Bensching said. “And we have four or five pitchers. As long as they keep throwing strikes and we get hitting out of the bottom of our lineup we should be OK.”
The league switched to an unbalanced schedule this year with each team playing each other three times. Clarkston swept Cheney in an earlier doubleheader but lost 5-4 to Pullman. Cheney swept Pullman.
Pullman visits Clarkston in a doubleheader Saturday and Clarkston goes to Cheney for a single game a week from today.
Six of the seven teams go to district with two advancing to a subregional.
“That’s why we had to start early this year because of playing each other three times and having a subregional,” Bensching said.
Nick Cundy (.609, 14 for 23), Mickey Smith (.471, 8 for 17), Randy Fuller (.415, 17 for 41) and Brady Arnone (.405, 16 for 41) lead in hitting. Arnone has a team-leading four homers. Pitcher Luke Olson is 3-0.
“It’s a real even league,” Bensching said. “It comes down to what team isn’t going to make the errors. When we’ve struggled to score runs our pitching has come up big. But we’ve had too many errors at times.”
A couple of freshmen dot the starting lineups of Greater Spokane League teams this spring.
One in particular has gotten off to a hot start.
Evan Douglas of Shadle Park has hit two grand slams – both coming in the first inning. He’s hitting .333 (8 for 24).
For years freshmen could play only at the freshman level, said longtime Shadle Park coach Ron Brooks.
“He’s been a great surprise,” Brooks said. “I knew coming in he was a quality hitter. His approach at the plate is very good. He arrives with the barrel on time pretty often.”
A rare sweep
Coeur d’Alene (10-1 overall, 3-0 league) did something that had only happened once before in Lewiston coach Tom Grunenfelder’s 18 years at the helm. The Vikings swept the Bengals at Lewiston last Friday, winning 3-2 and 15-7.
Kaleb DeHaas hit a solo homer in the sixth inning of the first game for the winning run. Pitcher Jake Pereira (4-0) had five strikeouts in a complete-game win.
Bubba Duran went 4 for 5 with two RBIs in the second game. Drew Turbin had a homer in the opener and a three-run triple in the second game.
“The kids really believe in themselves,” CdA coach Nick Rook said. “This is a tightly knit group of kids that are very focused on their goals. The sweep in Lewiston is outstanding, but we will play them again and we have a long ways to go before the playoffs.”
Duran leads the Viks in hitting (.533, 8 for 15). He’s followed by Matt Lambert (.441, 15 for 34) and Turbin (.438, 14 for 32). Turbin also leads in RBIs (16), stolen bases (12) and walks (14). Pereira has a 1.80 ERA and has 14 strikeouts in 20 innings.
First on the line
Co-GSL leaders Ferris and Gonzaga Prep, both 8-1, meet for a second time today at Ferris, beginning at 4 p.m.
Ferris won the first game between the teams last Wednesday 7-6. The Saxons took a 7-1 lead into the seventh before the Bullpups rallied.
Saxons left-handed pitcher Spencer Ansett (4-0), the winner last Wednesday, will start again today.
• Three two-game series begin Thursday and conclude Friday. In games Thursday, Ferris is at Shadle Park (5-4), Mead (4-5) goes to Mt. Spokane (7-2) and University (6-3) is at G-Prep.
The same teams flip flop sites Friday.
Sometimes scoring averages just don’t add up. Consider Mead (4-5). The Panthers are averaging 10.6 runs per game and allowing 7.5. … Preston Van Doren (.485, 16 for 33) of Mt. Spokane went 8 for 10 last week with two triples and a homer. In a 9-8 win over University, Van Doren was 5 for 5. In 14 straight plate appearances, Van Doren reached base either by hit, walk or hit by pitcher. Earlier in the season, teammate Carson Blumenthal had a stretch of reaching base 16 straight times. … Mt. Spokane (7-2) has won seven straight since opening with back-to-back losses to G-Prep. … Alex Allard (.563, 18 for 32) is leading Mt. Spokane in hitting. Blumenthal is second in hitting (.556, 15 for 27). Van Doren leads in RBIs (16). … Dakota DuBois leads Lewis and Clark in hitting (.370, 10 for 27) with three homers and seven stolen bases. The senior shortstop also pitches. He’s 2-2 with 25 strikeouts. … Travis Key continues to lead Ferris in hitting (.621, 18 for 29). He also has a team-leading 17 RBIs. Ryan Krustangel is second on the team (.586, 17 for 29). … Danny Rowton (.536, 15 for 28) continues to lead Shadle Park. He also leads the team with four homers and 12 RBIs.