That’s the explanation Federal Way baseball coach Danny Graham gives for how a team that began the season by losing three of its first five games clawed its way to the Class 4A state semifinals.
“At the beginning of the year, we faced four guys that were throwing in the 90s,” Graham said. “We have a lot of young guys and they just hadn’t seen that before. We just got everything handed to us.”
Graham fixed the problem by placing pitchers 20 feet from home plate during practice and instructed them to throw fastballs at batters.
“When the pitcher is that close to home plate and the balls are coming hard,” Graham said, “the brain tells the hands they’ve got to get quicker.”
When the Eagles faced a Redmond pitcher in the regional finals on Saturday whose fastball touched 93 miles per hour, they weren’t fazed. Federal Way topped the KingCo 4A champions, 6-5.
“We have figured out how to hit the fastball,” Graham said.
The results have been eye-opening. After opening the season 2-3, Federal Way (18-5) enters the semifinals on an 11-game win streak. The last team to conquer the Eagles? That’d be Kentwood (19-3), Federal Way’s semifinal foe. The teams will meet at 4 p.m. Friday at Safeco Field for a chance to play for a state championship.
In the other 4A semifinal, defending champion Richland (19-5) meets Shorewood (17-9) at 7 p.m. On Saturday, the losers will play in a third-place game at 1 p.m. and the championship game is slated for 7 p.m.
In the 3A semifinals, defending champion O’Dea takes on Enumclaw at 10 a.m. and Greater St. Helens League rivals Camas and Columbia River play at 1 p.m.
Kentwood coach Jon Aarstad watched his team beat the Eagles twice this season. He expects the third meeting will be the most challenging.
“They’re hot right now,” Aarstad said. “They’re a lot better than what they were the last time we saw them.”
Graham said Austin Webber will start on the mound for Federal Way, while Kentwood will send out ace Austin Voth, Aarstad confirmed.
The Eagles will get a chance to show just how quick their hands have become against Voth. The University of Washington-signee’s fastball reaches the low-90s and mowed down SPSL North hitters, striking out 51 batters in 242/3 innings. He also tossed five shutout innings against Federal Way on March 23, recording 10 strikeouts, two hits and one walk in a 9-1 victory.
“We’ve won so many games in a row, we’re kind of excited to play Kentwood,” Graham said. “By the time you get to the final four, it doesn’t matter what team you play because all of them are awesome.”
Doug Pacey: 253-597-8271 email@example.com
BASEBALL STATE SEMIFINALSWhen: Friday-Saturday
Class 4A at Safeco Field
Game times: Friday – Federal Way vs. Kentwood, 4 p.m.; Richland vs. Shorewood, 7 p.m. Saturday – Third place, 1 p.m.; final, 7 p.m.
2009 champion: Richland
Outlook: The Bombers have used pitching and defense to return to the state semifinals in their quest for a fourth crown in six seasons. Pitcher Mike Dunford and outfielder Chris Cecil lead Richland. Shorewood, a third seed from the Northwest District, scored a huge first-round upset, knocking off Puyallup on its way to Safeco Field. In the other semifinal are a pair of SPSL North teams. Kentwood beat Federal Way twice already, but the Eagles have not lost since the Conquerors handed them a 7-2 defeat April 14. Federal Way has reeled off 11 victories in a row. Kentwood ace Austin Voth will get the start in the semifinal. The league MVP will try to duplicate the five-inning, 10-strikeout, one-hit effort he gave in the Conks’ 9-1 win at Federal Way on March 23. The SPSL North will send a representative to the title game, but Kentwood or Federal Way will have to buck recent history. Teams from the WesCo or the Tri-Cities have won the title the past six years.
Class 3A at Safeco Field
Game times: Friday – O’Dea vs. Enumclaw, 10 a.m.; Camas vs. Columbia River, 1 p.m. Saturday – Third place, 10 a.m.; final, 4 p.m.
2009 champion: O’Dea
Outlook: Making its first semifinals appearance since 1977, Enumclaw faces defending champion O’Dea in a semifinal. The Hornets have played giant-killer before, though, twice beating highly regarded Mount Rainier in the postseason. O’Dea has won 13 of its past 14 games. Greater St. Helens League rivals Camas and Columbia River will square off in the other semifinal.
Class 2A at County Stadium, Yakima
Game times: Friday – W.F. West vs. Archbishop Murphy, 4 p.m.; Selah vs. R.A. Long, 7 p.m. Saturday – Third place, 1 p.m.; final, 7 p.m.
2009 champion: Cedarcrest
Class 1A at County Stadium, Yakima
Game times: Friday – Chimacum vs. Meridian, 10 a.m.; Cashmere vs. Naches Valley, 1 p.m. Saturday – Third place, 10 a.m.; final, 4 p.m.
2009 champion: Naches Valley
Class 2B at Parker Field, Yakima
Game times: Friday – Mossyrock vs. Seattle Lutheran, 4 p.m.; DeSales vs. Colfax, 7 p.m. Saturday – Third place, 1 p.m.; final, 4 p.m.
2009 champion: Northwest Christian of Lacey
Class 1B at Parker Field, Yakima
Game times: Saturday – Final, Almira/Coulee-Hartline vs. Colton, 7 p.m.
2009 champion: Wilbur-Creston
Doug Pacey, staff writer