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Mercer Island thumps Kennewick to completes 'magical' ride from 12-seed to Class 3A WIAA state baseball champion

The Islanders finish the season with wins over the top five seeds – capped by a 8-4 victory over Kennewick in its own back yard

PASCO, Wash. — Mercer Island coach Dominic Woody wouldn’t go as far as to say his young Islanders out-performed his expectations, but the storybook end wrote itself.

"This has been beyond my wildest dream,” Woody said, “and I won't say expectations but this has been a magical ride"

The Islanders beat Kennewick 8-4 to win the WIAA Class 3A state championship on Saturday at Gesa Stadium. It’s Mercer Island’s second state title in two appearances, both since Woody took over the program in 2013. The Islanders beat Shorewood to win the 3A title in 2015 for the program’s first.

This time, the Islanders were underdogs. After finished second in the 3A KingCo, Mercer Island lost in the 3A KingCo League tournament and won two straight win-or-go-home games for a berth to regionals.

(Washington high school baseball state championship: scores, recaps for all six title games)

The WIAA playoff seeding committee gave the Islanders, a top-10 in the RPI, a 12-seed, and players and coaches felt slighted.

“We were happy to stay out of the play-in game, but to say it didn’t add a little bit of fuel to our fire, I’d be lying,” Woody said.

Added senior pitcher Governor Aufranc: “We wanted to earn it.”

No. 3 Kennewick entered Saturday as one of the state’s hottest teams, putting up 32 runs in two loser-out regional blowouts and beating Mount Spokane 6-2 in Friday’s semifinals.

But they played all of Saturday’s title game from behind.

Senior catcher Kaden Wu hit an RBI double and junior Alex Henderson drove in two more on a double in the next at-bat as Mercer Island built a 7-1 lead in the first three innings.

They jumped all over Lions’ sophomore pitcher Leyton Lind, the Mid-Columbia Conference pitcher of the year, who was pulled after two innings.

After senior Jack Varney stole home at the end of the top of the fifth to push Mercer Island’s lead to 8-1, Kennewick flashed life. MCC player of the year Daniel Dickinson hit a solo home run over the left field fence, sophomore Ambrose Driver drove another run in on a double to center field and sophomore Dylan McIntyre added an RBI single to pull the Lions within 8-4.

For the second day in a row, Dickinson made a relief appearance and went hitless with three strikeouts, a walk and no runs in two innings, but the Lions couldn’t find the offensive firepower.

Woody carried a heavy heart into Saturday’s game, as it coincided with the four-year anniversary of the death of his younger brother. He told the team he, too, needed the title to add something positive to an otherwise challenging day.

“These guys have done something I can’t thank them enough for,” woody said. “It’s magical — that’s the only word I can use to describe this right now.” 

--Andy Buhler; @AndyBuhler.