BASEBALL: Kentwood upends Federal Way 3-2, advances to Class 4A championship game

Ben Cox delivered in a pinch, Taylor White came through in the clutch, and Austin Voth served up another dominating performance on the mound for the Kentwood High baseball team Friday afternoon.

Add it up and the Conquerors had just enough to overcome Federal Way 3-2 in a Class 4A state semifinal game at Safeco Field.

Trailing 2-1 with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Cox blasted a pinch-hit triple off the 389-foot marker in right-center field, plating Matt Bell from first base and knotting the game 2-2. One inning later, White came through with a bases-loaded single to left-center field, scoring JT Evenson from third base and sealing Kentwood's berth in Saturday night's championship game.

Cox took a simple approach to his clutch at-bat in the sixth inning.

"I just didn't think," he said. "I just wanted to get up there and swing it like I can. (Teammate) Cash (McGuire) already told me before I hit, 'Hey, just sit on a fastball because (Federal Way pitcher Elliot Morris) usually comes with it the first pitch.' So I just sat on that first pitch."

Kentwood (20-3) will play the winner of Friday's late game (Richland vs. Snohomish) at 7 p.m. on Saturday for the Class 4A state championship. Kentwood hasn't won a state title since 2000. The Conquerors will be making their third appearance in the state championship game in the last 11 years.

Early Friday evening, however, that state championship berth was in serious doubt.

Federal Way (18-6), which came in riding an 11-game winning streak, gave the Conquerors all they could handle.

"When we got here, a lot of people were saying, 'You're pretty happy to be here.' I said, 'No.' We came to win," said Federal Way coach Danny Graham. "To be honest, we came to win. We knew that Kentwood was awesome, they smashed us twice, but we felt we made the changes and had a lot more confidence."

That confidence showed in the first inning, when shortstop Nick Tanielu ripped an RBI double off the left-field wall, giving the Eagles a 1-0 lead. Federal Way pushed its lead to 2-0 in the second on a pair of Kentwood errors.

Voth, the South Puget Sound League North Division MVP, then took control, facing just nine batters over the next three innings. White, the Kentwood catcher, had a big part of keeping the number of batters Voth faced through the middle innings at a minimum, gunning down two Federal Way runners attempting to steal.

Voth went the distance on the mound, allowing just three hits and striking out eight.

"I knew my job today was to come out, get a win and throw strikes," Voth said.

That said, Federal Way was a far different team than the one the Conquerors rolled over twice during the regular season.

"I feel like their hitting improved a lot this year from the first time I faced them to now," Voth said.

Kentwood coach Jon Aarstad agreed.

"They have been unbelievable since we beat them earlier. They're a completely different team," Aarstad said. "It's like black and white."

Indeed it was. And much of that came thanks to a strong performance on the mound from Federal Way ace Elliot Morris, who handcuffed Kentwood through six innings.

Kentwood didn't break through against Elliot until the third inning, when Bryant VanEngelenburg pushed home Oak with an RBI single up the middle. Morris stranded a pair of Kentwood runners in the fourth and the fifth innings, but wasn't able to duplicate the feat in the sixth, when Cox delivered his pinch-hit triple. Cox's hit came within an eyelash of clearing the right-center fence.

"He's got pop. He's got a lot of pop," Aarstad said of Cox. "He really is a really good hitter. It's just a weapon that we have, another one we can throw out there."

Cox's big hit allowed White to seal the deal an inning later. Evenson led off the seventh with a four-pitch walk. VanEngelenburg followed with a free pass, putting runners on first and second with Voth, Kentwood's cleanup hitter, at bat. Voth sacrificed Evenson and VanEngelenburg up a base, allowing Graham to choose to intentionally walk Kentwood's Avery Kain.

The move, however, didn't pay off as White ripped the third pitch he saw into left field.

"I knew he was going to throw a fastball down the middle, so I pulled it," White said. "It was awesome. It's my favorite feeling in the whole wide world."

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