Coming back from a tough opening-round loss is one of the toughest things for a team to do in the Idaho state softball tournaments—and that was a hurdle the Wood River High School softball team couldn't overcome last week in Twin Falls.
Great Basin Conference West champ Wood River dropped a very well-pitched 2-0 game to pre-tournament favorite Mountain Home in the first State 4A game Thursday, then the Wolverines got behind the eight-ball early and fell 7-4 to league rival Burley Friday.
Mountain Home's talented sophomore pitcher and clutch hitter Nickayla Skinner was the difference once again in Thursday's match-up with Wood River junior righthanded pitcher Samantha Engel (4-6).
"Engel pitched her best game as a Wolverine," Wood River coach Dale Martin said about his three-year varsity pitcher, who has a 22-21 record.
Both Skinner and Engel pitched one-hitters in what Martin called a "great game." Unfortunately for Wood River, Mountain Home's only hit was a two-run homer by Skinner in the fourth. Senior shortstop Dani Stone stroked Hailey's hit.
"Tough game to lose," Martin said. "Skinner is by far the best pitcher in the state, and she's a great hitter, too."
It was reminiscent of Wood River's first game of the season, yet another pitching duel between Skinner and Engel in which Skinner's two-run game-winning single in the seventh beat the Wolverines 3-2.
Friday, Wood River clashed for the sixth time this season against Burley, a 4-2 loser to Lakeland in Thursday's opener. Burley scored four runs in the first inning and punched a few more across the plate after the Wolverines chipped away and tied the game 4-4 in the fourth.
Engel (7 hits, 6 K, 4 BB) wasn't at her best and the Wolverines (6 errors) weren't flawless on defense, as they were against Mountain Home when they didn't commit an error.
"We made too many mistakes to win at state against a good team," said Martin. "Both teams had errors (11 total). Ours were at critical times."
But Burley (13-20, 3-3 against WRHS) was a little bit better and advanced to play one more game, a 7-3 loss to Pocatello. Wood River finished with five hits—one apiece by Engel (double), Stone, Tasha Karst, catcher KD Pruett and sophomore Alex Lindbloom.
Seniors playing their final games were Hannah Gove, Lacie Wheeler-Anderson, Stone, Karst and Pruett.
Wood River (13-16) certainly showed it belonged in a tough field of eight teams at the State 4A tournament. But only one team can win. That team was Kuna (22-8) winning its first-ever State 4A softball title 2-0 over Mountain Home (25-4).
Kuna had lost the Third District championship game to Mountain Home 2-1 in eight innings. The two rivals clashed again in Friday's semi-final—with Kuna winning 1-0.
It was a tough loss for Mountain Home, but the Tigers showed resilience by outlasting third-place Pocatello (25-3) 3-2 in a 10-inning loser-out game.
Mountain Home pounded Kuna 12-1 in the first championship game of the double elimination meet, but Kuna saved a final gasp and blanked the Tigers 2-0 in the finale.
Besides 3-2 and 2-0 losses to Mountain Home this season, Wood River split a road double-dip with Kuna, winning 3-2 and falling 1-0 back on April 19.
So Martin's Wolverines know they can play with the best of Idaho's 4A squads after a 29-game season in which they played only five games on their dependable home diamond.
Martin said, "We played hard all season. I'm really proud of them. Hopefully we can build on what was started this season."