The WCL North and South second-half playoff chase is about as hot as it can get. With summer finally here in the Pacific Northwest, the final week of the WCL regular season is sure to be heated.
Only a half-game separates Yakima Valley and Gresham (13-7) in the South, with the Pippins in first with a 14-7 record. In the North, Bellingham and Victoria are tied for first with 12-9 records with Kelowna and Walla Walla tied for second only one game back of the leaders at 11-10.
The winners of the second-half will face first-half champs Victoria and Corvallis in best-of-three Divisional Series starting Tuesday, August 9 at the second-half champions ballpark. Games two and three (if necessary) will be at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria and Goss Stadium in Corvallis Wednesday, August 10 and Thursday, August 11.
Yakima Valley is led by WCL All-Star southpaw Zach Draper of College of Idaho, the league leader in both wins (8) and ERA (0.66). Draper has been dazzling over 11 starts. Cal State Fullerton’s Gavin Valaquez has been equally brilliant, leading the league in innnings pitched with 71.1 while going 7-2 with a 2.02 ERA for Yakima.
The Pippins, who have posted the league’s second best overall mark at 29-19, are sparked by slick-fielding shortstop Freddy Smith of Cal State Northridge. Smith is currently second in the league in hitting with a.327 batting average and second in hits with 50.
Gresham is right on Yakima’s heels, and are powered by outfielders Jeffrey Mitchell, Jr. of Cal, Ryan Smith of Southern Illinois and WCL Player of the Week for July 25-31 Mark Cardinalli of UC Davis. Mitchell is hitting .312 – sixth best in the WCL – and his on base percentage of .412 is second in the league only to Smith who owns the WCL’s best mark at .414. Smith leads the GreyWolves in RBIs with 21 and doubles with 9. Both Mitchell and Smith played in the WCL All-Star Game for the South. Cardinalli features a 12-game hit streak, leads Gresham in triples with 3 and is hitting .316 – the fifth best average in the WCL.
Bellingham has surged to a first-place tie with Victoria behind the relief pitching of WCL Pitcher of the Week for July 25-31 Sam Hellinger, who leads the WCL in Relief Pitcher Points with 29. The Gonzaga senior-to-be is second in the league in saves with 9 and has posted a miniscule ERA of 0.37.
The Bells offense is led by outfielders Shane Hanon of Edmonds CC and Andru Cardenas of Chico State – both WCL All-Stars. Hanon leads the WCL in hitting with a .336 batting average and is second in the WCL in runs scored with 28. His teammate Cardenas is tied for the league lead in runs scored with 30 and his 17 stolen bases are in the top five among WCL leaders.
Kelowna is hoping to return to the playoffs for a second consecutive year, as the Falcons have made the WCL North a four-team race in the second-half. Lane Lacrone of Colorado Mesa – an All-WCL honorable mention selection in 2015 – is Kelowna’s leader. The returnee leads the Falcons in at bats (161), runs scored (24), hits (42), RBIs (14) and stolen bases (6).
The Falcons have soared in the second-half thanks to two-way player Max Carter of Cal State Bakersfield. Max is hitting .282 and is 3-0 with a team-low 1.58 ERA on the bump.
Walla Walla is right in the thick of things as the Sweets are 26-22 overall, a game back of Bellingham (27-21) and two games ahead of Kelowna (24-24).
Sweets pitching has shined as Easton Lucas of Pepperdine, future San Diego Torero southpaw Chris Murphy, Bobby Ay of Cal Poly and closer Kyle Narahara of Cal State Monterey have been masterful. WCL All-Star Lucas is 6-2 with a 2.64 ERA and Ay, also an All-Star, is second in the WCL in ERA at 1.26. Murphy leads the WCL in strikeouts with 62. And Narahara has struck out 38 over 21.1 innings pitched and leads the WCL in saves with 10.
WCL North All-Star catcher Willie MacIver of Washington adds power to the Sweets offense as the right-handed hitting slugger is batting .320 – third best in the WCL – and has three homers and a team-leading 26 RBIs. Jarren Duran of Long Beach State is a Sweet catalyst, as the infielder is tied for the league lead in stolen bases with 20.
The Sweets finish the season with a three-game home set vs. Wenatchee starting tomorrow and with three games at Kelowna Aug. 5-7.
The Falcons start a critical three-game series at Bellingham tonight. The Bells finish at Wenatchee Aug. 5-7.
Gresham plays at Bend tonight and travels to Corvallis tomorrow for a three-game series with the Knights. The GreyWolves wrap their regular season at home versus the Elks Aug. 5-7.
Yakima Valley hosts Cowlitz before finishing with three at Victoria Aug. 5-7. The Pippins and Black Bears start a three-game series tonight at Yakima County Stadium.
If Victoria and/or Corvallis were to win the second-half, Victoria’s and/or Corvallis’ Divisional Series playoff opponent would be determined by overall winning percentage.
Corvallis (11-10, 3 games back) and Cowlitz (9-12, 5 games back) are still mathematically alive in the South second-half.
To review the league’s playoff procedures, click here.
ABOUT THE WEST COAST LEAGUE
The West Coast League is the premier summer collegiate baseball league west of the Mississippi. The 12-year-old, 11-team, professionally operated wood-bat league located in the beautiful Pacific Northwest features pro prospects from major conferences across the nation and an unparalleled history out west of great fan and player experiences in addition to the best summer weather in North America. In 2015, 59 players with WCL experience were selected in the MLB June draft, and more than 200 WCL alums appeared in affiliated professional baseball including 25 in the major leagues, such as home-run leader Chris Davis (Baltimore), NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Matt Duffy (San Francisco, now with Tampa Bay) and rising star pitchers Matt Andriese (Tampa Bay), Matt Boyd (Detroit), Josh Osich (San Francisco) and James Paxton (Seattle). Overall member attendance exceeded 400,000 in 2015. The 2016 54-game campaign opens tonight.