Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Young Wolverines eager for state softball

Loose group meets Blackfoot Thursday


By JEFF CORDES
Express Staff Writer

With a Great Basin Conference West district championship tucked safely in its pocket, the Wood River High School softball team is looking forward with great eagerness to its first-ever State 4A tournament.

Coach Dale Martin is excited for his young team, which has only one senior plus five juniors, six sophomores and two freshmen. But he's not really surprised that the Wolverines are playing in the eight-team state tourney Thursday in Pocatello.

"From the first parent meeting of the season, our motto was NBS—Nothing but State. I knew we had the opportunity because I knew we had pitching. The girls bought into it and it just kept going," said Martin.

Snowbound early and forced to play its first 10 games on the road, Wood River was 3-6 early on. Then the Wolverines won 10 of their next 11 games including last Tuesday's 7-6 come-from-behind win over #1-seeded Jerome for the district title.

Beating Jerome with freshman Samantha Engel on the mound, Wood River (13-8) earned the fifth state softball tournament berth in school history and its first district title since 2002, when Amanda Engel was playing, and 1998, when Rebecca Engel was on the team.

Martin said, "We've met our first three goals—a winning season, winning the district title and going to state. Now we want to win our first game at state and win state."

It won't be easy.

Wood River's opening-round foe Thursday, May 18 at Pocatello's Ward Field is Sixth District champion Blackfoot (11-11). Capitalizing on their opponents' mistakes, the Broncos earned their fourth state trip in five years by upsetting regular-season conference champion Hillcrest of Idaho Falls 8-2 and 8-2. Top Blackfoot hitter was Kirstie Aguayo.

Blackfoot and Wood River are similar in that they weren't supposed to win their district championships. "Our teams are kind of similar," said Martin. To do well the Wolverines will have to tighten up their defense and play hard from the start, he said.

Martin said, "We've done better on defense by moving Jamie Stone to third, but we need to start diving for balls. And first innings have killed us. We have to play hard from the start. We also have to stay loose. They're a great bunch of kids to be around, but I found out they don't respond well to seriousness."

It will get serious real fast if Wood River beats Blackfoot Thursday at 5 p.m., since the probable next opponent would be reigning state champion Bishop Kelly of Boise, a 10-5 winner over Kuna in last year's championship game at Post Falls.

This year, Kuna (18-5) upset Bishop Kelly (23-2) by a 5-3 score in the Third District title game, so Kuna will open its state quest Thursday against Emmett (17-7) at 3 p.m. while Bishop Kelly squares off at the same time against Post Falls (18-5). The other 5 p.m. match-up pits Jerome (14-6-2) against Pocatello.

Pocatello nipped Wood River 3-1 in last Thursday's Great Basin championship for state seeding, a tight game played at South Valley Sports Complex softball field, Hailey.

Martin pitched his ace Engel (10-5) for the first five innings Thursday, but Pocatello broke a 1-1 tie with a pair of sixth-inning runs off reliever Hannah Gove (3-3). Wood River managed only four hits as its six-game winning streak came to an end.

Even so, the Wolverines had two runners in scoring position with two outs in the bottom of the seventh when Vennesa Valentine ripped a scorching liner that was caught by the Indian center fielder.

"I thought we were coming back again," said Martin. "Some of our teams in the past would have folded. Not this team." Indeed, Wood River is 10-2 in its since April 13, playing and winning five one-run games and going 3-1 in its four two-run games.

So, the Hailey team's attitude remained pretty tight. "The girls are still higher than a kite," said Martin. "Sometimes there is value in a loss. We came out of the Pocatello game with a positive attitude, realizing we can compete with anyone. We are loose and we do not give up."

Regardless of what happens in this week's double elimination tournament, the future is bright. Jerome loses five seniors and Burley graduates six.

"We should be in the driver's seat with our pitching, but we have to get better over the summer," said coach Martin, helped by Todd Brooks, Dick Coleman, Nicola Brashears and Anna Edwards.




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