A year ago Cheney, third in the Great Northern League, was upset by sixth-place East Valley and knocked out of the District 7 2A baseball playoffs in the first round.
This year the fifth-seeded Blackhawks (15-7) made successful road trips, winning in Pullman and upsetting GNL champion Clarkston.
That means a berth in the district title game, weather permitting. Their foe? The EV Knights (14-5). At stake is seeding into next week’s subregional tournament with CWAC teams, the winner advancing to state.
“Losing was a very upsetting thing,” coach Randy Elam said. “The difference between this year and last year is we’re going in the opposite direction. We had a solid ballclub, but we were not going in the direction we wanted to at the end of last season.”
Cheney lost four of its first five league games but has gone 12-3 down the stretch.
Jeremy Alderman fanned 12 in the win over perennial power Pullman, and Dakota Torkelson three-hit Clarkston. Wild pitches, the result of Cheney’s pressure offense, produced runs from Josh Maio and Spenser Rassier. Third baseman Tyler Smith made an “Adrian Beltre” play to first on a slow roller that ended an inning with the bases loaded.
Six of the nine seniors on the roster start, including leadoff hitter Drew Henry, a second baseman and center fielder.
“He’s the straw that stirs the drink,” Elam said.
Perhaps the biggest key has been the elevation to varsity of 5-foot-4, 128-pound freshman catcher Dominic Bonilla. He’s since thrown out 13 base runners.
“I’m a firm believer that it’s an extremely rare case when a freshman catcher can play at this level,” Elam said. “He transferred from California. Boy, can he throw it. He’s got a lot of intangibles that come with someone who’s played a ton of baseball.”
Elam said this is one of the nicest teams he’s had.
“I like the matchup,” Elam said of the upcoming game with EV. “I think a lot of (coach) John (Phelan). He’s a great guy.”
A year ago EV won just a half-dozen games. This year the Knights finished second in the GNL.
“We haven’t had much success around here for a while,” Phelan said.
But he felt good about this year’s young squad and figured they’d be improved.
The wet spring forced EV to play 11 games in 11 days and the team won nine.
“I was hating it when we were doing it, but it is OK now,” Phelan said. “Our pitching made it through and I think it helped because now we’re more in a groove and swinging the bat.”
Same old Vikings
A year ago Coeur d’Alene compiled a 23-2 record and finished third in the Idaho 5A state tournament. Despite graduating nine players, six of them starters, and losing Danny Lockhert, who moved back to Missouri, nothing has changed.
The Vikings are 20-2 overall and undefeated in the Inland Empire League with a 12-0 record.
Four of a kind
It’s not necessarily uncommon that brothers and sisters play baseball and softball at their high schools.
But Northwest Christian has an unusual situation. Two sets of brothers and sisters play identical positions on their respective teams.
Scott and Sara Miller, a pair of sophomores, both start at second base. Payton Gray, a junior, and his sister Mackenzi, a freshman, are at shortstop.