Friday, March 28, 2008

Big inning lifts WRHS over Rams 12-7

Wolverines split twinbill at Highland

Express Staff Writer

Wood River High School baseball players have a pretty simple approach to the game this spring—play good defense, pitch well and score at least one run every inning at the plate.

That's what third-year Hailey coach Matt Nelson said Wednesday after his Wolverines shook off the rustiness of Spring Break and split a non-conference twinbill with the Highland Rams in Pocatello.

Wood River exploded for five runs in the visitor sixth to crack open a 5-5 deadlock and win the opening game 12-7 behind the combined pitching of winner Pat Patterson (1-1) and reliever Greg Wakefield (save).

Young pitchers getting their first chance at varsity action and too many bobbled balls in the early going contributed to Highland's run-ruling the Wolverines 13-3 in six innings of the late-starting nightcap Tuesday on the Pocatello field.

Snapping a three-game skid, Wood River (2-4, 0-0 league) made a nice comeback after dropping an error-plagued 6-5 and 7-3 doubleheader in Nampa to the Skyview Hawks on March 15 in pre-Spring Break games.

Nelson said, "We gave up seven unearned runs to Skyview, so the games at Highland were positive because we cut down on our errors. We still have some spots to work on. But our pitching has been outstanding. The guys have been getting the ball down and throwing some heavy pitches."

Wood River also learned Wednesday that its scheduled home and league opener against Burley on Wednesday, April 2, will instead be played in Burley because of wet grounds at Hailey's Founders Field.

To minimize lost classroom time, Wood River will play a doubleheader in Burley next Wednesday, both games counting as league contests. Wood River will be the home team in the 3 p.m. opener. Burley will have last ups in the nightcap.

Wood River's scheduled home doubleheader against Blackfoot Saturday, April 5, will likely be played at Blackfoot. First probable home game is Thursday, April 10, against the tough Minico Spartans.

Not being able to practice outdoors and being cooped up in the gym for practices has been "challenging," Nelson said. The coach added, "Our kids are playing well. We're ahead of what I expected. I want us playing our best baseball at the end of the season."

Coming off what Nelson called "one of his best games" in the 6-5 loss at Skyview March 15, senior pitching ace Patterson kept Wood River in the game until the 12-hit Hailey attack got warmed up Tuesday.

And sophomore Keven Abbott sparked the hitting attack on a chilly and breezy day when the Wolverines "took a while to get started out on the live grass," said the coach.

Patterson (5 innings, 3 hits, 4 BB, 6 K) didn't allow an earned run and left the mound in a 5-5 tie after five frames. Wood River erased a 1-0 deficit with a three-run third—Abbott leading off with a double and Tyler Israel (3-for-3) driving home the first run with an RBI single.

"Keven has been outstanding for us this spring. He went 5-for-7 at Skyview. And he had some great at-bats at Highland. To see a sophomore come in makes the other guys want to tee it up. That's the effect he had at Highland," said Nelson.

After Israel's run-scoring hit, Michale Brunker (4-for-5) ripped an RBI single, Sean Bunce dropped a perfect bunt down the first base side to bring home a run, and Trent Seamons scored Brunker with an RBI single for a 3-1 lead.

The game was tied 3-3 in the fourth when Israel delivered a one-out double, scored on Brunker's RBI single and the Hailey lead grew to 5-3 on a two-out RBI double off the bat of senior outfielder Seamons. But two unearned runs drew Highland even at 5-5 after five.

In the sixth, Abbott worked a leadoff walk and Israel also drew a free pass. Brunker scorched a two-run double, Bunce walked and Brunker scooted across the dish on two Ram wild pitches. Seamons chipped in with an RBI single and the lead grew to 10-5.

Wakefield, pitching in relief, got into a sixth-inning jam with a pair of walks but whiffed the final two batters to limit the damage and keep the score 10-7. Singles by Israel and Brunker and a two-run Bunce single provided some insurance in the seventh, and Wakefield retired the Rams 1-2-3 for his first save.

It was the second win of the campaign for Wood River, which started last season 1-6 and 2-8 en route to an 8-15 season. Nelson said, "It was nice to see us hit the ball well, especially since we got only 12 hits in two games over at Skyview."

Freshman Jake Freeman started the nightcap, which started at 7:30 p.m., and sophomore Zac Sjoberg relieved in the second. Highland led 6-2 after two stanzas. Seamons came on in the third and threw strikes, but the Rams were fastball hitters in the fading light and nicked Seamons for six runs, only three earned.

"We're still trying to get the kids back into the baseball thing of playing two," said Nelson, whose Wolverines have divided two twinbills and dropped one in their first six games. "It's tough to get motivated when the second game starts at 7:30 p.m. and it's cold and dark. But we got one."

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