Spanish Springs kicks off the playoff baseball slate. The Cougars racked up a 13-7 record in Northern 4A league play, staking claim to the fourth seed for the Northern 4A Region tournament.
It also sets up a meeting with a familiar team, the Carson Senators. The two teams have met three times already this spring and will face off again at 3:30 p.m. today at Spanish Springs High.
The winner of that matchup will face the winner of the No. 1 Reno versus No. 8 Damonte Ranch contest. The loser falls into the losers’ bracket.
All three games between Spanish Springs and Carson have been nail-biting affairs. The Cougars improved to 3-0 and 4-0 in league play with a series sweep of the Senators early on in the season.
At Carson, Spanish Springs took advantage of four Senator errors to win 5-3. The Cougars led 5-0 through five and a half innings and held off a late comeback attempt.
But at SSHS, the Cougars were the ones playing catch-up. Spanish Springs was down 5-2 heading into the bottom of the fifth, but Tim Epker’s two-run home run and Jake Bray’s solo shot tied it up.
The score remained knotted at 5’s until Epker launched a walk-off homer to lead off the bottom of the seventh.
However, the last time the two teams faced off, it was Carson coming out on top mid-way through the season.
In Spanish Springs’ spring break tournament, the Cougars led 7-6 going into the final inning only to see the Senators rap out seven hits and rally to a 13-7 triumph by sending 10 batters to the plate in the top of the seventh.
“They’re a tough match-up for us. All three games were close and all three games could have gone either way,” SSHS baseball coach Ben Hofmann said. “They’re definitely a very good ball club. They’ve got good starting pitching and the middle of their lineup can be very tough. They’ve got a handful of underclassmen that are a great complement to the seniors they have.”
The Cougars have proven to be a strong ball club as well with some of the area’s top hitters. In league play, Bray led the team with a .500 batting average and fellow senior Tanner Oates hit at a .445 clip. Oates was also second on the team with five home runs and 23 RBIs.
Chase Kittilsen led the Cougs with six homers, while Kendall Murphy drove in a team-high 24 runs.
Malcolm Anderson is expected to take the mound today for the SSHS nine. In league, he recorded a 3-1 record with a 3.23 ERA.
“We’ve got a couple guys who have been real good all year, but he’s probably been the most consistent from start to start,” Hofmann said of Anderson. “He’s a senior on our team and also a guy who I think if we were in the situation to play again on Saturday, he could bounce back.”
Hofmann isn’t sure who Carson will throw at the Cougars, but he expects it to be either Colby Blueberg or Adam Whitt.
Unlike years past where there were two teams expected to make the championship, there are no teams to count out among the eight that made the field.
“It’s extremely wide open. The eight that got in, I really feel confident that one of the eight has a good chance in making it to state,” Hofmann said. “There are some teams that are playing better than others and there are some teams that are probably on paper better. Honestly, this is one of those years where I think anybody who gets in has a chance to win.”
Making it to state will be a lot easier for Sparks. The Railroaders just have to win two games.
Sparks has to get past Lowry, which racked up a 12-3 record and finished second behind Elko in the Ruby Mountain League.
The Railroaders went 10-2 to take first in the Mount Rose League and earned the right to host the best-of-three series. The first game is scheduled for Friday at 3:30 p.m. Game 2 is Saturday at 10 a.m. and the deciding game if necessary will follow at 1 p.m.
Sparks baseball coach Greg Vasko doesn’t know much about Lowry since the teams have not played this year. The Buckaroos swept the Railroaders a year ago when the two teams were in the same league, and the Winnemucca school was one win away from advancing to the state tournament.
But last year doesn’t matter much and Vasko likes how his own team is playing right now.
“I feel like they’re playing outstanding,” Vasko said. “I feel they’re playing as well as they could be at this point. They made a couple mistakes the other day that we need to work on. We had a goal to get where we’re at right now and we still have one more phase and that is to get to the state playoffs. Our focus is going to be really high this week and we’ll stay positive.”
The Railroaders will take this week and work on what they’ve worked on all season. Vasko doesn’t see the need to change anything now.
Vasko also isn’t worried about finding pitching for a three-game series that lasts less than 24 hours. Sparks has four pitchers capable of racking up innings in Martin Jordan, Dennis Morelli, Tyler Dresbach and Kirk Putman.
The Railroaders are all excited about hosting a playoff series a year after not qualifying for the postseason.
“We’re really excited about it,” Vasko said. “We went up to South Tahoe the other day and didn’t play the way we’re capable of. We gave some things away. We made a few mistakes and worked on them in practice. The kids had a goal in mind and the kids just attacked the ball on Saturday.”