PASCO – West Seattle senior Sam Hellinger carried a simple approach into Friday’s Class 3A semifinal against Mount Si: Give his defense the opportunity to make plays behind him.
But there was more weight to this game than that, and Hellinger admitted as much after West Seattle held on for a 3-1 win. West Seattle had never advanced to the final four of the state tournament before this year, let alone win a state championship.
The Wildcats will now play the winner of Kennewick and Auburn Mountainview for the Class 3A state title at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“I’m a senior, and I’m kind of the leader on the team,” Hellinger said. “I needed to do my stuff and give our guys an opportunity to field the ball. We haven’t gone this far, so there’s a lot of pressure. But we got here so there’s no reason why we can’t win it.
“It’s unbelievable, man. There’s no words for it. We’re on a run. We’ve just got to keep it going one more game, and we can make it even better.”
Indeed, West Seattle looked the part of a championship-caliber team against Mount Si, although Hellinger and Co. also got some help.
West Seattle took a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Tim Adams singled to drive in two runs. But that play was preceded by a Mount Si error and another misplayed ball in the outfield.
West Seattle coach Velko Vitalich, now in his 26th season at the school, has seen that same scenario play out before but usually with the roles reversed. He has had teams good enough to make it this far, but he hasn’t had one with same the combination of talent and poise as this group.
“The difference is we’ve played more relaxed,” Vitalich said. “We’ve been to state regionals a lot of times and looked nervous. Mount Si made some errors early and that looked like some of our teams in the past that were just too tight to play. But this team seems more relaxed.”
It didn’t hurt that Hellinger was on the mound.
He wasn’t perfect early – he stranded two runners in the first inning and left the bases loaded in the second – but he never buckled. He went all seven innings, gave up six hits, struck out four and didn’t allow an earned run, though it was his throwing error in the seventh inning that allowed Mount Si to get on the board.
Hellinger also added an RBI in the fifth inning for a little cushion.
“When he’s on the mound,” Vitalich said, “we think we’re going to beat anybody.”
Mount Si had the same number of hits – six – as West Seattle, but Mount Si had four errors compared to two for West Seattle.
Now West Seattle will get a chance to win the school’s first state title in baseball, which has brought out support from old players and fans.
“I’m getting texts all the time,” Vitalich said, “and I don’t even know who it is.”