Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Boys come from nowhere for state baseball trip

Nampa-bound Wolverines put Bees in bonnet 6-2


Wood River junior Greg Wakefield, rounding the bases during his teamís 16-2 rout at Jerome May 6, ripped a two-run double giving Hailey a 4-1 lead over Bonneville in Saturdayís state play-in game. Photo by David N. Seelig

Well, let's be honest, the Wood River High School baseball team didn't exactly come from nowhere to earn its first-ever State 4A tournament berth with a 6-2 state play-in victory over the Bonneville Bees last Saturday over in Pocatello.

The Wood River baseball program founded by Lars Hovey has been one of the Gem State's best over the last decade—going to the State 3A tournament six consecutive years from 1999-2004 and winning its only state championship with a 25-4-1 mark in 2003.

Many of the current Wolverine players came out of the seventh seed in last summer's American Legion Area C "A" tournament to finish second to Blackfoot and then climb all the way to third place in the State "A" tournament in Hailey. It was the best-ever State Legion finish for a Hailey team.

Throw in the fact that Wood River has one of the best, young coaches in the Gem State in Hailey native Matt Nelson. And add the fact that senior Pat Patterson has been a legitimate ace pitcher for three seasons, throwing a 12-16 record in high school ball and 15-18 in Legion.

But, coming out of nowhere has become Wood River's story for its snowbound, late-starting spring of 2008. And the Wolverines are sticking to that story all the way to this weekend's eight-school State 4A tournament at Bill Lofholm Field located at Nampa's Rodeo Park.

"People will look at our 9-18 record and wonder how we got to state," said Nelson, shortly after Wood River bounced Bonneville 6-2 Saturday, causing the proud coach to comment, "Bonneville didn't know what hit them." He added about state, "We're going to be dangerous when we get there."

Wood River will get to Nampa today, Wednesday and start its first-ever State 4A tourney quest Thursday, May 15 at 10 a.m. against the Lakeland Hawks (9-9) from Rathdrum. Similar to Wood River, Lakeland earned its first State 4A baseball berth with a wild 12-11 Region 1/2 championship game home triumph over Moscow Wednesday. And, like Wood River, Lakeland last made it to state in 2004.

Senior Trent Seamons said, "We're more excited than we've ever been, just to be going down and playing some ball."

Who will Nelson send to the mound against Lakeland?

"Haven't decided yet but I've got an inkling who I'm going to throw," said Nelson with a twinkle in his eye, knowledgeable of the rules that stipulate a pitcher who throws seven innings on Thursday must have a full calendar day of rest before pitching again on Saturday.

So Thursday's starter at state would likely be Patterson (5-6), the horse Wood River has ridden all the way to paydirt with three straight road wins—5-2 at Burley May 3, 16-2 at Jerome May 6 and 6-2 over Bonneville last Saturday.

"He threw a gem against Bonneville. I couldn't have asked for a better game from Pat. He straight up dealt! He was dealing ground balls all game. And our defense was tough and tight led by Tyler Israel at second," Nelson said.

Youthful Bonneville (17-12) was no slouch, having dumped Blackfoot 7-6 last Tuesday to earn the 4A District 6's second seed. Then the Bees belted 14 hits and eliminated the Preston Indians 13-2 in a run-rule shortened five innings Thursday on the Preston diamond.

Unfortunately for an upstart Bonneville squad that went from four wins a year ago to 17 this season, Wood River was the hotter team with its bats. Coming off their 21-hit barrage at Jerome four days before, the Wolverines jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning at Pocatello's Halliwell Park.

Keven Abbott singled and Michale Brunker and Sean Bunce followed with RBI singles for Wood River (8 hits). The lead could have grown in the second stanza, but Bonneville pulled off a rare triple play with Hailey runners on first and second and no outs.

Bonneville chipped away with an unearned run in the fourth. It was still 2-1 Wood River after five full frames. In the sixth, senior Trent Seamons (3-for-4, 4 RBI) sparked the decisive two-run Hailey rally with a double. Patterson drew an intentional walk. With two outs Greg Wakefield (2 hits) stroked a two-run double on a 0-2 count.

"That gave us some breathing room," said Nelson.

Seamons added a two-run triple to right center after walks to Abbott and Brunker in the seventh and Wood River's lead stretched to 6-1. Patterson (11 K, 0 BB, 5 hits) did the rest for another complete game.

Eight teams will show up at Rodeo Park Thursday, but only three are returning from last year's State 4A meet. They are tournament favorites Minico of Rupert (24-2) and Bishop Kelly of Boise (22-5) along with Rigby (13-7), a 6-5 loser to Sandpoint in the 2007 consolation final.

Coach Ben Frank's Minico Spartans, going against Mountain Home (17-10) Thursday at 7 p.m., have been all about hardware since moving down from 5A to 4A starting in 2005. Since, Minico owns a 95-25 record topped by this year's 24-2 mark.

The Spartans won the 2005 state title 5-1 over Post Falls, added the consolation championship in 2006 and settled for the second-place trophy last year with a 10-9 loss to Columbia in the title game, in Boise. Last week, Mountain Home ousted Columbia 10-0 to earn the Boise area's third seed.

Bishop Kelly, meanwhile, was anything but picture perfect on defense in grabbing its second District 3 championship in three years 7-6 over Skyview of Nampa last Friday. The Knights committed eight errors and still won. Bishop Kelly plays Pocatello (13-9) Thursday at 1 p.m., with the winner going against the Lakeland-Wood River winner Friday at 4 p.m.

The other first-round game Thursday matches Skyview (16-11) and District 6 king Rigby. Championship game is Saturday at 4 p.m. preceded by the 10 a.m. consolation final and 1 p.m. third-place contest.




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