For the week of May 19, 1999  thru May 25, 1999  

Great game, great finish send Wolverines to state

Salsa! Wood River outlasts Buhl 14-13 for baseball title


By JEFF CORDES
Express Staff Writer

What a baseball battle!

And what a satisfying finish for the long-beleaguered supporters of Wood River High School baseball!

Jabbing like heavyweights and never quitting until the final bell, the Wood River and Buhl high school baseball teams jockeyed back-and-forth through seven innings of high drama last Wednesday.

Fans rocked the rafters at Hailey’s Founders Field. The biggest crowd in Wood River baseball history saw the biggest and most exciting game ever played by the Wolverines.

In its last at-bat, Wood River won 14-13 for the first district tournament championship in school history.

"Salsa!" shouted the Wolverines in their rallying cry, drowning out seven years of baseball disappointments.

Clutch hits. Long home runs. Unlikely rallies. Startling drag bunts. A total 37 hits. And 27 runs. Rivals refusing to give an inch. Runners constantly in scoring position. Pitchers sweating bullets.

And one miracle catch.

Wood River left fielder Max Paisley—retreating, turning his back to the ball and finally diving, total extension, at the warning track—robbed Buhl’s best player, Aric Reynolds (4-for-5) with the bases loaded and two outs and the score tied 13-13 in the seventh.

Wood River coach Lars Hovey said, "I thought it was a grand slam homer, or at least a triple. Three runs anyway. But Max’s catch gave us a chance to win it."

It meant, after two-plus hours of crackling, relentless offense, that Wood River needed one run for the win.

"We need you on base," ordered Hovey to his leadoff hitter before marching out to the third-base coaching box.

Shortstop James Cordes (5-for-5) looked at a ball and then ripped a single between short and third. Wood River’s best base runner was aboard.

First baseman Brandon Bush laid down his first sacrifice bunt of the season. And then Buhl intentionally walked clean-up hitter T.J. Peterson for the second time.

Wolverine sophomore Tyler Nice came to the plate.

No pressure now! Nice, who relieved starting pitcher Matt Zachary in the top of the seventh inning, had already dodged a major bullet.

Nice gave up a Sean Elderen solo homer and then escaped a one-out bases-loaded jam with a huge strikeout of Buhl’s leadoff hitter Cory Hamilton and Paisley’s miracle catch of Reynolds’ opposite-field drive.

They were the only times Wood River retired Hamilton and Aric Reynolds all day.

Hitless in four previous trips, Nice fought off a good pitch and blooped a Texas Leaguer to right field. It dropped in front of onrushing right fielder Aric Reynolds and took a weird bounce. But it was plenty to bring Cordes home with the winning run.

One finger raised in triumph, Cordes kept on running through home plate and down to first base. There he and the rest of the Wolverines ganged up on winning pitcher Nice in a pile of happy celebration.

"So many big plays. So many big at-bats," said eighth-year coach Hovey. "It was gut wrenching because it could have gone either way. You almost thought whoever had the last at-bat would win.

"We did a great job battling back, but Buhl did a great job battling back, too."

Hovey had seen plenty of big games slip away in the past including last year’s eight-inning 2-1 loss to Jerome in the district championship. It made the title game win, at home, all the more rewarding.

Wood River (16-9, 7-2 home) survived the loss of several seniors, pulled itself together at midseason and won five of its final six games.

Hovey said, "There were a lot of pivotal moments this season when we, as coaches, wondered how the team was going to respond.

"It wasn’t us. The players pulled each other up. They decided they were going to make the commitment to what it was going to take.

"They had the choices to make—a bunch of little ones, one after another, all adding up to the point where they got themselves in position to win the district tournament."

The big game

From the start, Wood River’s ace righthander Zachary wasn’t at his best. He threw and threw, mostly hard stuff, and Buhl cranked hit after hit right back at him.

Gun shy by the middle of the game, Zachary started getting too fine with attempts at low strikes—and catcher Kenny Nelson spent much of the game on his knees, deftly blocking pitch after pitch.

Zachary plunked Buhl’s first batter, Hamilton, and Buhl led 2-0 after one.

Meanwhile, senior Adam Reynolds, Buhl’s #2 pitcher, mixed his pitches well in the first two innings, whiffed four and allowed just a bunt single by Cordes and a ground single by catcher Kenny Nelson.

In the second, Wolverine second baseman Cory Goicoechea made a diving catch of Brandon Craner’s blooper to short right field. In the home third, #9-hitter Matt Johnson had the best at-bat of his life, working the count to 3-2 before belting a double on one hop to the center field fence.

"Buhl had all the early momentum," said Hovey. "Then Cory made a big catch, and Matt Johnson came up with yet another big hit. It kind of broke the spell because Adam Reynolds had us off-balance.

"We were nervous the first couple of innings. We were down. MJ’s hit and Cory’s catch were big because they got our jitters out and we were back on our game."

Johnson’s leadoff double sparked a 4-run Wolverine uprising capped by T.J. Peterson’s 410-foot home run over the center field fence. The rally produced the first of six lead changes during the game.

Wood River followed its 4-run third with a 5-run fourth to regain the lead at 9-6. Buhl misplayed Cordes’ surprise drag bunt with runners at first and second and Cordes ended up at third. RBI singles by Bush (2 hits) and Peterson (3 RBI) did the final damage.

Hovey said, "T.J. had a big home run for us in the third. But those drag bunts we had—and we did a great job with our bunts all game—were just as big as the homer if not bigger. They got big innings going."

After Buhl filled the bases with one out in the fifth, Cordes and Goicoechea turned a 6-4-3 twin killing. It started looking like Wood River’s day.

You can never have too many runs against Buhl’s hard-hitting attack, though. Third baseman Jake Upham’s leadoff double in the home fifth ignited a 2-run inning that finished with two-out hits by Cordes and Bush. 11-6.

Buhl rallied and Wood River supporters feared the worst.

The Tribe sent 10 batters to the plate and manufactured 6 runs in the sixth. Buhl seesawed ahead 12-11—the go-ahead run coming on a tricky first-and-third quick steal on which Zachary balked.

"Buhl swung the bat well against Matt all game," said Hovey. "When we saw Matt (128 pitches, many with runners aboard) make that mental mistake with the balk, we knew we had to get him out of there. It was time for Buhl to see something different."

Give Zachary lots of credit.

He escaped further damage by fanning the final batter of his gutty six-inning outing, Tribe clean-up man T.J. Cline.

Before Nice was summoned, Wood River reclaimed the lead. Nelson (2 hits) led off the home sixth with a single to center. Running for Nelson was Josh Perron, whose brother Ryan played on Wood River’s first baseball team in 1992.

Perron ran all the way home for the tying run when Upham’s well-hit line drive to center hopped over the head of the Tribe center fielder.

Then Paisley delivered Upham for a 13-12 Wolverine lead with a bloop single to right. But Paisley made a baserunning mistake which killed chances of a bigger rally.

A sophomore with a huge heart, Paisley was downcast. On his way out to left field to start the seventh, Cordes boosted him up, telling Paisley the team still needed him.

How they did!

Nice whiffed Buhl’s Sonny Thornborrow for the first out, then Van Elderen (4 hits) cranked a 330-foot game-tying homer down the left field line. Paisley climbed halfway up the Uhrig Fencing sign, trying to wave it down, to no avail.

Adam Reynolds singled to right on a 3-2 count and Craner laid down a bunt single. Buhl’s #9 hitter Chris Flynn hit a comebacker to Nice that looked like a possible game-ending double play.

But Nice’s throw to second was off the mark and the bases were loaded, full of Tribesmen.

"Tyler made it interesting and dug himself a hole by not getting the ball to second," said Hovey. "Then he struck out Hamilton, looking. It brought up Aric Reynolds. What hasn’t he done so far?

"We were out of bases. We had no place to put him. Okay, we said, scoot back.

"Here we go!"

On a 2-1 pitch, Reynolds drilled a long, long liner to left. Two outs. The runners were moving. So was Paisley, normally a catcher.

He retreated to his left, toward the gap, and saw the ball slicing back toward the left field line. A tremendously difficult catch to make. Turning his back on the ball, he quickly picked it up again and dove at the last minute.

Down he went. Up came his glove, signaling the catch.

Not unlike that cold windy day at Kuna March 27 when Paisley ran into the fence for a fly ball and, bloodied for that night’s Junior Prom, still raised his glove in triumph.

This time it meant a district championship for his team.

"Max picked Tyler up. Hey, Max picked himself up," said Hovey. "Extra effort meant everything."

 

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