Issue of: May 13, 1998  

 

Great pitching duel a climax to baseball season

Wood River lefty Peterson, Jerome righty Atkin lock horns


Two sturdy seniors, one lefthanded and one righthanded, one a Wolverine and the other a Tiger, threw with their arms and their considerable hearts Monday in an excruciatingly close Fourth District A-2 baseball tournament championship game at Bruins Field in Twin Falls.

Maddening in its small details as only baseball can be, the little Idaho gem was carved out of Friday’s rain deluge in Buhl and thrown out on sun-drenched grass at Twin Falls High Monday for all to see. The result? A memorable pitching duel between Wood River High School’s ace lefty T.J. Peterson and Jerome’s catcher-turned-pitcher Jon Atkin.

Peterson (11 strikeouts) was great, at his best with hungry runners lingering and the game on the line. "T.J. met the challenge," said a proud Wood River coach Lars Hovey.

But Atkin, somehow, was just a little bit better. He allowed only 1 hit, a one-out ground single up the middle by Peterson in the fourth inning. Atkin reared back and challenged the heart of Wood River’s gallant batting order—and won the battle.

Jerome prevailed 2-1 in eight hard innings and captured its third district championship in four years. Wood River, which had thrived on close nailbiting games all spring and had won five consecutive one-run contests, met its match in Atkin and finished an outstanding 14-11 season just one victory shy of a state tournament berth.

Hovey said, "You really have to take your hats off to Jerome. Atkin went strictly with hard stuff the last couple of innings and got the job done. He made some really big pitches and shut us down.

"Certainly our bats didn’t show up, although we gave ourselves opportunities all day long. But I was glad we didn’t beat ourselves those last two games. It was an exciting tournament."

Having deprived arch-rival Wood River of its first-ever district championship, the Tigers now play American Falls Thursday, May 14 when the eight-team State A-2 tournament convenes at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Ore.

Hovey said, "Moving up to A-1 next year, Jerome is in for some long years ahead, so I’m pleased for them that they’ve got the opportunity to go to state with their first-year coach and have a chance to build their program. Prior to the district tournament, they were having a disappointing year. They were in disarray halfway through the season."

Besides four-year varsity star Atkin, Jerome’s other hero was junior Donavan Adfield.

Shortstop Adfield, Jerome’s leadoff hitter who reached base five times and collected 3 of 5 Tiger hits in the extra-inning title game, was involved in the game’s first run and, nearly two-and-a-half hours later, in the game-winning tally.

Adfield drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch leading off the game and scored on Atkin’s line drive double off the left field fence. With two outs in the eighth and two Tigers aboard, Adfield fouled off three good Peterson offerings on an 0-2 count and punched an RBI single to right.

Wood River had its scoring chances chiefly because Atkin walked eight. But the determined Tiger hurler, nursed through frequent troubles by visits from coach Jay Ostler, buckled down and stranded seven Wolverines in scoring position. Confused briefly with runners at the corners and Matt Johnson quick-stealing, Atkin surrendered his only run on a sixth-inning balk.

For the most part, Wood River played excellent defense led by the continued fine play of senior shortstop Cam Lloyd. Center fielder Justin Herald, another senior who stepped in for injured Ryan Stavros and did an outstanding job afield, cut down a Jerome runner at home plate in the sixth after gloving Adfield’s line single.

Trailing 1-0 for nearly the entire game, Peterson kept the Wolverines close. He struck out seven Tigers in the third through fifth innings—striking out the side with runners at second and third in the fifth.

With the score tied 1-1 in the home seventh, Wood River was on the brink of winning when Lloyd drew a leadoff walk and left fielder Max Bailey sacrificed him to second.

That brought up Wood River’s leading hitter, Alex McLaughlin. Instead of walking the southpaw contact hitter and setting up a force play, Atkin elected to challenge him. And a great faceoff it was.

Atkin struck out McLaughlin on a 3-2 pitch—only the second time in 90 plate appearances that McLaughlin (.449) had gone down on strikes. Then clean-up hitter Kayo Sady grounded out to end the threat.

Did Jerome think about walking McLaughlin? "I don’t think it ever crossed their mind," said Hovey.

So ended the lowest scoring championship game in district annals. And perhaps the best.

Hovey, summing up the season, said, "We weren’t overly optimistic going into the season, so I’m pretty happy with what we did. Even with our new league next year, it’s not going to be a cakewalk. But we should do well with our younger players coming up."

Tournament build-up

Jerome (8-17 overall, 2-6 league) had been seeded third in the three-team league, lurking in the shadows of Buhl’s fine regular-season record and Wood River’s overachieving bunch. But no one in their right mind underestimated Jerome at tournament time—not even when #2-seeded Buhl routed Jerome 14-2 in the tourney opener May 6 at Buhl.

Jerome, after all, was the defending tournament champ, having crushed Buhl 19-6 in the finale at Hailey in 1997.

This year, top-seeded Wood River broke the considerable resolve of Buhl by beating Indian ace righthander Jeremy Walker (9-2) by a score of 7-3 last Wednesday on the Faris Field diamond in Buhl. On the heels of his nine-inning 12-11 win over Buhl on the same field just a week before, Peterson (4-6) threw a 4-hit complete game with 10 strikeouts.

Wood River (12 hits), beating Buhl for the fourth time in five meetings, built a 2-1 third-inning lead on McLaughlin’s 2-run double. The Wolverines added 3 runs on 5 hits in the fifth. Leadoff singles by Herald and Lloyd (3 hits, 3 runs) preceded an RBI single by Bailey (4 hits), an RBI double by McLaughlin and a Peterson sacrifice fly.

Buhl threatened in the sixth and seventh when Peterson walked five Tribesmen and hit one, but Buhl managed only 1 run as Peterson found the strike zone and whiffed the final two batters in each frame.

Wood River’s victory snapped a five-game district tournament losing streak dating back to an 8-7 extra-inning win over Buhl in 1995. More importantly, the Wolverines earned a day off, which helped their pitching rotation that had lost righthander Matt Zachary (thumb surgery) for the season.

Hovey said, "Going into the tournament without Zachary, we figured we had to get it done in two games. We thought we had a real good chance being able to come back with T.J. on Friday night."

The next night, Jerome battered downtrodden Buhl with 22 hits and 5 homers in a 23-8 run-rule triumph that sent the Tribe packing for 1998. Besides the symmetry of baseball’s percentages, there was no logical reason for the pounding. Buhl had beaten Jerome in all five previous meetings this season by a combined 56-16 score.

Atkin got the pitching win against Buhl, meaning he couldn’t pitch the next night against Wood River. Still, Jerome’s momentum continued in Friday’s weather-abbreviated title game at Buhl.

Sparked by Atkin’s one-out RBI double, the visiting Tigers capitalized on two Wolverine errors to surge ahead 4-0 in the middle of the third inning.

That’s when the rains came—and came and came. The downpour put Buhl’s field underwater, so much so that Monday’s resumption of play was rescheduled for the drier Twin Falls diamond.

"If we don’t get rained on, Atkin can’t pitch," said Hovey.

Wood River senior righthander Sady (2-3) and Jerome soph righty Jonathan Roberts locked up in their own gutcheck battle in the first championship game. The Wolverines needed only one win for the district title. Jerome needed two. But Jerome’s two-day-old 4-0 cushion was too much for Wood River to overcome. The Tigers hung on 6-4.

Sady pitched well and got defensive help. After J-2 Madsen’s fly ball was lost in the sun and Jerome scored twice for a 6-1 lead in the fourth, Wood River escaped further damage with a double play started on a relay from right fielder Bo Pritchett to second baseman James Cordes to catcher Kenny Nelson. Tagging the runner out at home, Nelson picked off another adventurous Tiger runner on the basepaths.

Pritchett started another double play by catching a line drive foiling a Tiger hit-and-run in the seventh. Wood River nearly rallied from a 6-2 deficit on Lloyd’s one-out walk, a Jerome infield error, McLaughlin’s RBI single and catcher’s interference on Atkin that installed Sady at first base. With the tying run on first, Adfield made a fine running and diving catch on Peterson’s outfield pop fly. And Jerome survived 6-4.

WOLVERINE NOTES—In seven district tourneys, the top seed has won only once—Jerome in 1995 over Wood River….Wood River, 4-14 in seven district tournaments, is 1-7 against Jerome—winning by a 12-2 score in its first-ever district game in 1992 and losing the next seven….The Wolverines, top-seeded four times, have been outscored 157-109 at district. This was the first time they’ve outscored their tourney opponents, by a 12-11 margin….Jerome moves to A-1 in 1999.

The 1998 Wolverine squad is the only one in school history to avoid being shutout. The team never lost more than two games in a row, and had three-game and four-game winning streaks….Wood River’s 14-11 record was only the second winning season in school annals, matching the 14-10 season of 1992….The team established a school-record 5-3 mark in 1-run games….Wood River (6-8 extra innings) had won four straight extra-inning games dating to 1995 prior to its 2-1 loss to Jerome Monday….Four of seven Wood River-Jerome clashes this spring were 1-run games, each team winning twice.

 

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