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After nine months of preparation which included numerous rainouts and rescheduled games, it all comes down to the final five days.

The Lower Columbia Red Devils, along with seven other contenders, are making a bid for the golden hardware at the NWAC Baseball Championships beginning Thursday and stretching through Monday at David Story Field.

LCC (35-9) plays Mount Hood (18-23) in the tournament's first-round nightcap at 7:35 Thursday. A victory would push the Red Devils into a semifinal matchup at 7:35 p.m. Friday, while a loss in the double-elimination tournament would place them a a loser-out game at 12:35 p.m. Friday.

"We've worked hard to get to this point, an exciting time of the year" LCC coach Eddie Smith said. "We're a loose bunch who really like competing together and for each other, and that's what you want going into a tournament like this."

The Red Devils won the West Region with a 21-4 record, which included a 12-game winning streak midway through the region schedule.

"The results we've had speak for themselves," Smith said. "When we play well, we're a tough team to beat. If we keep that focus and take care of things we can take care of, the game of baseball will reward the efforts."

Mount Hood started the season 5-14, but righted the ship during its South Region schedule to finish with seven consecutive wins including regional wins over Edmonds and Yakima Valley.

"They started slow but have been playing well lately," Smith said of the Saints. "It's about getting hot at this time of the year, and they're hot. It should be a good game."

Smith noted there isn't a clear-cut favorite to win the conference championships.

"There isn't a team that is a no-doubt where it's everyone against them," Smith said. "It's a balanced field, and every team brings something to the table."

Besides Mount Hood's hot streak, Lane has solid pitching, Columbia Basin is hitting the ball well, and Everett is tough all-around, according to Smith.

"It's a matter of which team will get hot when it counts the most," Smith said.

Devils' closer-turned starter Taylor Davis (8-1, 2.73 ERA) has the opening night assignment against a Saints team which is hitting a composite .245.

"After Taylor it's up in the air," Smith said of Friday's starter. "This is a unique group as we have guys who have done great jobs for us. What happens in game one determines who goes from there."

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Rick is a 29-year veteran of The Daily News, and the lead Lower Columbia College athletics reporter. In addition, he tracks former area prep athletes and assists several other beats. He is a Mark Morris grad with a business management degree from LCC.

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