No Greater Spokane League team has won a state baseball title since WIAA started keeping track. If that streak is to end this season, it’ll be up to the Mead Panthers.
Mason Wells struck out five over six innings, Austin Reed drove in three with a pair of singles and third-seeded Mead knocked off fourth-seeded Chiawana 11-3 in the District 8 4A championship game at Avista Stadium on Saturday.
“It’s a great feeling,” Mead coach Steve Hare said. “To put it all together here at the end of the season – we’re clicking on all cylinders. It’s a good feeling that we’re enjoying right now.”
This is Mead’s first district title since 1997 and will be their 10th appearance in the state bracket – first since 2012. The Panthers’ best finish was a final four appearance in 1989.
Ferris fell to Richland 4-1 in the 4A third-place game earlier in the day at Avista. In 3A, Mt. Spokane was eliminated by Kamiakin 3-2 in eight innings at Southridge HS. It leaves Mead as the only GSL team to qualify for state.
“You know the teams you play all season long, and who is there that could put a deep run together – we’ve always felt like we could be one of those teams,” Hare said. “And to be the only team there, that’s a good feeling.
“But that doesn’t show the true ability of the GSL teams that we have. We definitely have some quality programs. But it’s exciting to know that we’re carrying the torch now.”
Wells tossed a 1-2-3 top of the first – with the help of a diving catch in right field by Jaeger Adams – then the Panthers bats went to work.
“I just stayed relaxed,” Wells said. “We made some really good defensive plays, which really saved our bacon going later into the game.”
With two down in the home half of the first frame, Thomas McKenna singled, went to second on a single by Wells and scored on a single by Kameron Kinder for a 1-0 lead.
Braeden Cordes (3 for 4, two runs) led off the third with a double down the right-field line. He advanced on a passed ball, then Christopher Taylor topped one to third and would have beaten the play regardless, but third baseman Ethan Sugden threw it away and Cordes walked home to make it 2-0.
McKenna then doubled down the left-field line and Taylor scored from second. McKenna finished 2 for 2 with two walks and scored four runs.
“It’s nice hitting at Avista,” McKenna said. “When we’re hitting at the GSL fields, it’s not the same feeling as hitting at a nice ballpark like this.”
With two down, Austin Reed dumped a single into center and McKenna’s courtesy runner scored to make it 3-0. Dalen Simbler laced a triple to score Reed, then came home on an error by the shortstop.
All told, Mead batted around and plated five runs.
The Panthers picked up three more in the fourth. Cordes led off with a single, Taylor was hit by a pitch and McKenna walked to load the bases. Wells drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to center and with two down, Reed plated two more with a single.
“I was seeing the ball really well,” Reed said. “People were getting on base ahead of me, I was driving the ball – everything was working out.”
Chiawana took advantage of some defensive miscues to score three in the fifth, but Mead answered in the sixth.
McKenna and Wells drew back-to-back walks before reliever Nick Bonnington called to the dugout, clutching his pitching arm, and was taken out. Estevan Ruiz walked his first batter to load the bases and got the next two batters, but Michael Workman delivered a two-out, two-run single to make it 11-3.
Riley Whelan struck out two – both looking – in the seventh to seal the district title for Mead.
“It feels great to know that we’re the best team in the GSL right now,” Reed said.
“We want to make a really deep run,” McKenna said. “This is only going to be the beginning for us.”