The Mt. Spokane Wildcats have never been to the final four in baseball.
But they proved Saturday they know how to get there in style.
Connor Cantu hit a walk-off grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to give third-ranked Mt. Spokane a 7-4 win over Kennewick and a trip to its first State 3A semifinal.
“I knew I hit it well,” the senior center fielder said. “I was halfway down the first-base line when I saw my coach jumping up and down. That’s when I knew it was gone.”
Cantu hit a chest-high fastball over the right-field fence off Kennewick reliever Mark Driver, who walked the Wildcats’ Nos. 3 and 4 hitters to load the bases after bringing the Lions to within one out of their fifth semifinal berth.
“Here at Kennewick, we talk about earning the right to cry. This was heartbreaking,” Driver said. “There’s no other feeling to compare to this.”
The homer was Cantu’s only hit of the day after starting out 0 for 3.
“I tried my best to erase everything and wipe the slate clean,” Cantu said. “I faced him before at Baseball Northwest, but I didn’t know what he was going to throw. I figured I’d just sit on the fastball, and if he threw me an offspeed pitch I’d keep my weight back and get it over the infield.”
Blake McDonald drove in Mt. Spokane’s first two runs with a double in the bottom of the first, and Drew Rasmussen followed with an RBI double for a 3-0 lead.
Kennewick scrapped back into it with a run in the third and two more in the fifth to tie the game at 3. Charlie DeWitt drove in two runs, including the go-ahead run in the top of the sixth on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly that gave the Lions a 4-3 lead.
Driver took the loss, allowing four runs on four hits in two innings. McDonald, who came in to relieve Cooper Smith with two outs in the fifth, got the win for the Wildcats.
“I had total confidence in myself and my team, especially my defense,” Driver said. “I threw (Cantu) a fastball. That’s the pitch we as a team thought was right.”
Rasmussen was key in the Wildcats’ first game of the day – a 3-1 win over Hanford. He pitched a complete-game five-hitter and did not allow an earned run while improving to 11-0 this season in the program’s first state victory.
“He’s such a competitor,” Schuerman said of Rasmussen. “He knew our season was on the line today. He doesn’t get rattled.”
Rasmussen got off to a rocky start, but recovered. Hanford loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the first, but Rasmussen struck out the next two hitters and coaxed a harmless grounder for the inning-ending fielder’s choice in what turned out to be Hanford’s best shot offensively.