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5 storylines entering 2022 WIAA state baseball championship weekend: West Seattle's ace chasing Blake Snell's strikeout mark

Are league rivals Puyallup, Olympia on a 4A title crash course? Can anyone in 1A stop Cedar Park Christian? Where did this Kennewick team come from? Can Naselle win its program's first title?

State baseball is back.

For the first time since 2019, the WIAA will hold state high school baseball championships throughout the state, with Class 3A/4A at GESA Stadium in Pasco, Class 2A/1A at County Stadium in Yakima, and Class 2B/1B at the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex in Ridgefield. The semifinals take place Friday in all but 1B and the championship games are on Saturday. 

A lot has changed in the three years since the last spring state championships were held. Only one defending state champion is back in the final four. That's University Prep, who takes on league foe and state 1A favorite Cedar Park Christian Friday. 

Olympia, the top 4A seed, has a chance to surpass its state runner-up finish in 2019. The Bears reached the title on a walk-off double in 2019 then lost to Moses Lake.

Stay with SBLive on all weekend for coverage across the entire spring sports championship weekend. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.

Here are five storylines to watch this weekend:


Gonzaga-bound junior Miles Gosztola celebrates an out during a dominant 2021-22 season on the bump.

Gonzaga-bound junior Miles Gosztola celebrates an out during a dominant 2021-22 season on the bump.

After Miles Gosztola committed to Gonzaga in September, West Seattle coach Dylan McLaughlin could sense the junior left-handed pitcher's focus sharpen intently on backing up his Division I billing.

"He said ‘I just don’t want to be a D-1 guy who commits and shouldn’t be there," McLaughlin said of his Wildcats' top arm. In Gosztola, McLaughlin has seen a hunger and competitive edge he hadn't previously.

He's a big part of a program turnaround after going 5-7 and 6-13 the previous two seasons. The Wildcats (24-1) are in position to compete for the program's first state title this weekend. They enter the Class 3A state semifinals  as the top seed overall.

(RELATED: Top 20 pitchers in the 2022 Washington high school baseball season)

Gosztola has struck out 115 batters and given up just two earned runs and 24 walks in 62 innings pitched. He's four strikeouts away from passing the single-season strikes mark of former Shorewood standout Blake Snell, now a pitcher with the Padres. And he's determined to pass it if he gets the call to start against 12-seeded Mercer Island on Friday at 7:15 p.m.

Snell threw 118 strikeouts in 56 innings with a 1.00 ERA as a senior in 2011. The 6-foot-4 left-hander committed to Washington but was drafted out high school in the first round. He spent five years in the minors, then went on to have an All-Star season, win the AL Cy Young Award and lead the AL in wins and ERA in 2018. 

"He knows about (Snell's mark)," McLaughlin said. "It's in the back of his head."

Snell's single-season strikes mark isn't believed to be the best of all-time. That according to former Liberty (Issaquah) coach and state baseball coaches association head Glen Walker was recorded by former Liberty pitcher Tim Linecum, who went on to become a four-time all-star, three-time World Series champion and two-time NL Cy Young Award winner. He threw a potentially-untouchable 183 strikeouts in 91 innings as a senior, according to Liberty team records.  

McLaughlin is an Enumclaw grad and local club coach who coached under Mercer Island's Dominic Woody (who he will face this weekend for the first time). And he was the first to see up close how special West Seattle's youth was as the coach of a dominant JV team. 

When the head varsity job opened up in the offseason, McLaughlin, a network engineer at Boeing, leapt at the opportunity in part because of how talented his up-and-comers were. He had no idea how quickly they would gel. 


If a team not named Cedar Park Christian plans to hoist the 1A state trophy, it will need to get through the top seed's two golden arms.

Seniors right-handed pitchers Chris McLean and Justin Feld have been chopping down lineups unlike any other one-two punch in the state for the Eagles.

McLean, a right-handed commit to Division II Biola, entered the regional round with a 7-1 record, 0.522 ERA and 107 strikeouts with 16 walks. Feld’s line is just as impressive. The Tacoma CC-bound righty was 8-0 with a 0.151 ERA, 94 strikeouts and 14 walks.

It’s a big reason the Eagles (24-1) are the heaviest favorite across all classifications, having outscored opponents 53-4 in the postseason entering Friday’s semifinal against University Prep (15-8). 

“Some years you’ve got to claw and grind in these games and these guys have been imposing their will a little bit,” Cedar Park Christian coach Matt Stevens, whose Eagles finished state runners-up in 2017, said. “It’s what I thought they’re capable of and we always talk about playing our best baseball in May not March and they are.”

At the 1A regional round on Saturday, coaches from CPC's quarterfinal regional opponent, King’s Way Christian, discussed which pitcher they’d rather face between the two.

After watching McLean’s 10 strikeouts against Quincy in the first round, and facing Feld’s six Ks in three innings in the afternoon, they reached a conclusion: Neither.

“There’s no difference,” King’s Way coach Tod Pisarczyk said. “They’re both the same amount of awesome.”

CPC has a chance to win its second state title in four years. They made the final weekend in 2018 but finished fourth, were bounced from the regional round in 2019 and felt ready to contend in 2020 before the season was cancelled during COVID-19’s onset.

12-seeded University Prep is both the defending 1A state champs, having won it in 2019, and the only team to beat Cedar Park Christian this year (2-1 on April 1). CPC won the other two head-to-heads.


Puyallup outfielder Noah Fields dives into home during the Vikings' bi-district semifinal win over Camas at Kent-Meridian High School.

Puyallup outfielder Noah Fields dives into home during the Vikings' bi-district semifinal win over Camas at Kent-Meridian High School.

The last two times Puyallup has reached the Class 4A state semifinals, they left Pasco with the first place trophy. 

Ask head coach Marc Wiese, there's a certain quality that he says reminds these Vikings (22-2) of his teams that won it in 2014 and 2017.

"We just play one game at a time," Wiese said. "Big thing I tell all our players every day is every game’s the state championship game. We’re going to prepare ourselves the same way we did the other 25 games."

The teams don't get any easier championship weekend. First, Puyallup faces Skyline (14-12) on Friday, which won it all in 2016. Then in the finals it will face either top-seeded Olympia, whom it is 1-2 against this season. Or Richland, a program that's won more 4A titles than any team in recent memory (five since 1999).

Brooks didn't play in Puyallup's district title loss to the Bears due to illness. He returned, which Wiese hopes will coincide with a rematch.

"It would be a lot of fun to have another shot and have all our guys for that one," Wiese said. 

With hot-handed hurler Wyatt Jones out for the season, senior Northwest Nazarene pledge Adam Brooks has stepped up as a stellar No. 1. The talent-laden Vikings already had Stanford-bound sophomore catcher Kai Halstead, 4A SPSL co-league player of the year Jeremiah Crain, Washington State-bound outfielder Donte Grant and junior outfielder/pitcher Bret Ellingson, who is committed to Seattle U.

Meanwhile, Richland brings in top end talent and depth, headlined by two Division I commits, junior catcher Kooper Jones (Washington State) and pitcher Spencer Green (Oregon State). 

So much so that coming into the year, Bombers coach Grant Richardson felt his team could run the table. Instead, they're winners of eight in a row, having crescendoed in a postseason push.

The Bombers (22-5, 16-4) finished third in the 3A/4A Mid-Columbia Conference, then beat Hanford, Gonzaga Prep and Kamiakin to win the 4A District 8 tournament. They then beat Mount Si 12-2 and Moses Lake 2-0 back-to-back in the 4A regional round. 

"Honest to God I didn't think we'd lose a game this year because of our talent," Richardson said. "We've taken our licks, but we've learned from them. We don't want to be the best team in March, we want to be the best team in May."


The Comets celebrate a win over Almira-Coulee-Hartline in the 1B state semifinals on Saturday.

The Comets celebrate a win over Almira-Coulee-Hartline in the 1B state semifinals on Saturday.

Randy Lindstrom remembers a lot of details about Naselle’s state runner-up run in 1992.

His Comets beat Wahluke to reach the title game in what is now Avista Stadium in Spokane, home of the Spokane Indians.

He was the catcher and the team ace was Brad York, a fellow senior and his buddy, was the ace in an era when arm care was far less evolved, York was operating well below full-strength by the time they were downed by DeSales in the title game — the first of seven straight DeSales titles (14 in 15 years stretching to 2006).

“There’s some water under the bridge,” Lindstrom said. “It’s been 30 years.”

That’s how much time has passed since Naselle (11-2) last reached the title game. Now in his sixth year as Naselle’s head baseball coach, the Comets are back knocking on the door of their program’s first championship.

The opportunity comes Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex. They face a Crosspoint (19-1) team that upended top-seeded DeSales 10-7 in the regional quarterfinals.

The Comets feel they had teams capable of doing it in the last two seasons, but didn’t have the chance. Due to COVID-19, Saturday is the first WIAA state baseball championship since 2019.

This spring, they’ve nearly had more games cancelled than were on the schedule due to rainouts. The wait to compete on this stage has been much-prolonged.

“They know it’s been a long time coming,” Lindstrom said.

Senior Joey Strange first came back as a pitcher only, and now has added defensive strength in the infield and a consistent bat after being cleared to return in early May from a broken left hand suffered during the football season last fall.


Kennewick coach Lenny Ayres knew he had a lot of talent coming up the program pipeline, but never thought his team would be this good, or make a postseason run quite this deep.

Not immediately, at least.

The Lions (24-3) play Mt. Spokane (22-5) in the 3A semifinals Friday at 4 p.m. at Gesa Stadium. The program has only reached the title game twice before (2008, 1997) and won in 2008. 

Ayres believes the distinct characteristic that bonds this group tighten than any team of old is they love spending time with one another. Players will routinely stay after practice into the evening playing whiffle-ball in the outfield just to spend more time together.

"I've never been around a team that's liked each other more," Ayres said.

There are senior middle infielders Danny Dickinson (0.524 ERA, four home runs), the MCC player of the year, and Chance Bolden (three home runs), whose leadership Ayres said has carried the Lions. 

But large portions of the Lions' lineup are underclassmen.

Sophomore pitchers Ambrose Driver (36 1/3 innings pitched, 6-1, 1.9 ERA) and Leyton Lind (31 1/3 innings pitched, 5-0, 1.34 ERA) have electrified a strong MCC, including sweeps of Kamiakin (17-5) and 4A semifinalist Richland (18-5), and a win over Walla Walla (14-7), a 3A playoff team and against its forthcoming state semifinal opponent, Mt. Spokane, which the Lions won 9-7.

Because of Kennewick's first place position in the standings, both were discussed for conference pitcher of the year over several Division I-signed arms from other teams when MCC coaches met to determine all-conference. Lind took home the honor.

"It’s a pretty surreal feeling, it’s just so hard to get out of our district," Ayres said. "It’s pretty humbling and it’s quite a feat to be playing at this juncture .. you kind of lay your head down and say ‘wow.’ ”

Each season in the 2021-22 school year has brought about at least one inspiring deep postseason run at Kennewick High School.

First, the football team drove across the state three straight weekends on a giant-killing run to the Class 3A championship game. Then, Kennewick's basketball team reached the 3A state basketball tournament after a late-season push. 

The baseball program has joined them. 

--Andy Buhler; @AndyBuhler.

Lead photo by Porter Hammer