A year ago, the Boise Hawks scratched and clawed their way into the playoffs.
They didnt qualify for the postseason until the final night of the regular season, when they finished the second half 19-19 and won a tiebreaker to qualify.
The next day, the playoffs began, and it took just two games for Yakima to sweep Boise out of the divisional series.
Fast forward a year, and the Hawks situation down the stretch is entirely different and presumably in their favor.
Last year was won on the last day of the season, and theres a lot of emotions involved in that, second-year manager Mark Johnson said. This season, its a more relaxed, confident team. It feels like they are supposed to win, which is half the battle. They feel like theyre going to win every day.
Boise has done its share of winning in the second half. It improved to a league-best 23-12 after defeating the Everett AquaSox 9-5 on Wednesday night in front of 3,012 at Memorial Stadium.
The Hawks will face Yakima in the first game of the postseason Monday night, nine days after clinching a playoff berth.
Its not too long ago (that they clinched), Johnson said. Its just enough time where we can catch our breath, regroup and say, This is what weve got to do. Weve got to finish strong and then go after it.
Pitching coach David Rosario might have been the happiest member of the staff when Boise clinched with time to spare.
No. 1, because we dont have to use everybody until the last game, he said. I can make sure that Ive lined up the relievers that I want for the first couple of games. Thats definitely an advantage.
Rosario said he will start Pierce Johnson in Game 1, and hes likely to pitch only a few innings before giving way to Jose Arias.
In Game 2, Tayler Scott will start and Michael Heesch will be the second pitcher to enter the game.
Johnson was the 43rd overall pick in Junes draft. The Missouri State product joined the team Aug. 11.
Im so excited, Johnson said. I know we started off the season pretty bad up here. I had been following it. But then we just clicked as a team, and its been awesome to see what we can do with our bats and our pitching staff. To be able to be a part of it, and then throwing the first game, its the cherry on the top.
Boises bats have garnered much of the attention in the second half, and rightly so. Boise came into Wednesdays game leading the league in batting average (.276), home runs (62) and virtually every other offensive category.
But Rosario said the players who have joined the team midseason have made a world of difference on his pitching staff.
I think in the second half, when all the college guys arrived, they gave me some versatility, he said. Late in the season, when I had them, I was able to win some ballgames with them.
Hopefully, we can keep it up for the final games.
Chris Langrill: 377-6424