Friday, July 11, 2008

Shaky sweep begins Legion’s second season

Wood River escapes with 3-2, 20-16 home wins over Royals

Express Staff Writer

Alertly watching the play unfold, Wood River’s Keven Abbott snuck home from third base as Hillcrest’s defense threw the ball around—and Abbott scored the winning run here in Hailey’s 3-2 Area C "A" American Legion baseball victoery over the Idaho Falls Royals Wednesday at Founders Field. Getting ready to catch the ball at the Hailey diamond is Hillcrest catcher D.J. Furukawa. The tag was late. Photo by Willy Cook

The Fourth of July holiday in Idaho American Legion baseball is like the All-Star break in the major leagues—you have the season before the break, and the season after.

You want to do well in both seasons, but doing well in the second season is particularly important in building momentum for post-season tourneys.

Starting "Season Two" is what Wood River American Legion coach Matt Nelson called Wednesday's Area C "A" home doubleheader between upper division Wood River and the lower division Hillcrest Royals from Idaho Falls.

As expected, Wood River (17-7, 14-6 league) swept the Founders Field twinbill 3-2 and 20-16 against a Hillcrest squad (7-13 conference) that will likely be matched up against one of the Area C teams with a better record when the state-qualifying "A" district tournament debuts July 24 in Twin Falls.

But Nelson was a little concerned about the way Wood River went about its business Wednesday. In the first game, Wood River's bats didn't have much pop. The hitting improved tons in the nightcap, but the pitching and defense were "iffy" for a contender.

Still, two wins are two wins. Wood River (5-1-4 in doubleheaders) swept its fifth twinbill of the 2008 hardball campaign.

And they were sort of an adventure for a Wood River squad trying to shed memories of their 8-6 doubleheader loss to Burley on July 1, their final game before the holiday break.

The 20-run nightcap for Wood River was the most runs scored by a local Legion team in 246 games covering six seasons, dating back to a 22-9 victory at Kimberly July 3, 2002 during Wood River's 40-20 season that featured 557 runs scored in the 60 Hailey games.

Different as night and day

Wednesday's games were totally different—the first a crisp 89-minute pitcher's duel, the second a two-hour and 40-minute marathon featuring 36 runs, 37 hits, 10 errors, 15 walks, 310 pitches and very few, three to be exact, strikeouts.

Dominating Game One were a pair of righthanders, Sean Bunce (3-0) of Wood River and Kevin Birch of Hillcrest. It looked very much like a Wood River shutout until the seventh inning, when Hillcrest made it interesting by tying the score.

Bunce (82 pitches, 5 hits, 2 BB, 4 K) was helped by three double plays and he started two of them from the hill. Right fielder Keven Abbott made a nice shoestring catch to end the second inning. And Hillcrest didn't advance a runner to second base until its final at-bat.

Meanwhile, Wood River manufactured two runs in the third for the 2-0 lead it carried into the final frame. Abbott (2 hits, 2 runs) led off with a single to left and scampered to second on a Tyler Israel grounder. Bunce filled the bases by legging out a bunt single.

Michale Brunker's bouncing ball drove home Abbott for the first run and Trent Seamons lifted a sacrifice fly to drive home Israel with the second tally. After that, Royals righty Birch mixed up his pitches and kept Wood River off the board.

In the seventh, Hillcrest got back-to-back leadoff hits from Casey Hillyard (2 hits) and Jeff Gillespie. With one gone, catcher D.J. Furukawa belted a long ball off the bottom of the left field fence for a two-run double. Alert Hailey catcher Pat Patterson picked Furukawa off second and the score stayed 2-2 into the home seventh.

Wood River coach Nelson always preaches the virtues of alert baserunning—and Tyler Israel provided a perfect example in the game's deciding play.

Abbott, the #9 hitter, worked a walk with one out in the seventh. Like Abbott, leadoff hitter Israel had a terrific at-bat. He went down and got a low pitch and punched it for a single into the deep grass in right field.

Israel, rounding first base, noticed nobody was covering second while the fielders tried to track down his single in the deep grass. He took off on a beeline for the keystone sack and drew a Hillcrest throw.

Abbott, meantime, had moved up to third base. When the throw went to second and the Royals' defense started to collapse further under the weight of instantaneous decisions, Abbott wisely broke for home and made it safely for the game-winning tally.

Catcher Patterson (2 hits, double) had a good stroke going all day and Royals center fielder Jackson Fuller made a great catch in the second inning, going way, way back to snag a deep drive by Seamons.

36-run, 37-hit nightcap

Fuller, another righty, started the second game for Hillcrest against slim righty Jake Freeman of Wood River. It seemed at the start that the home team would make short work of the Royals and send everyone home early on a beautiful day in the valley.

Think again.

Coach Nelson ended up using four pitchers, staff ace Patterson (6-1) earning the victory with two-and-two-thirds innings of reliable middle relief. Seamons mopped up in the seventh stanza for the save. And Hailey roughed up two Hillcrest pitchers during the game.

Wood River (23 hits) batted around three times during the game, the first time in the opening stanza. Four straight hits by Abbott (4-for-6, 4 runs, 3 RBI, 6-for-8 twinbill), Israel (2 hits, 3 runs), Brunker and Seamons put Hailey ahead 5-0.

The 3-4-5 spots for Wood River did a great job in the offensive assault, accounting for 10 hits in 17 at-bats and 10 RBI. Brunker went 4-for-5 with 3 runs and 5 RBI, Seamons 4-for-5 with 3 runs and 2 RBI, and Patterson 2-for-2 with 3 RBI.

Wood River's 6-0 lead after two innings dissolved when Hillcrest sent Freeman to the showers with a seven-run third and touched up reliever Shane Friesen for a six-run fourth. At that point, the Royals led 13-9.

The home team rallied with five runs for a 14-13 lead in the home fourth. Leadoff singles by Nick Crosby and catcher Nathan Farrow (4-for-5) set the table. Abbott followed with an RBI single. With two outs Brunker hit a two-run triple.

With Patterson on the mound, Wood River added five runs in the fifth for a 19-13 lead. Farrow doubled with one out and scored on a RBI single by Tyler Peters. Abbott doubled, Brunker delivered a bases-loaded, two-run single, Seamons singled one home and Patterson lifted a sacrifice fly.

Hillcrest (14 hits) pushed across three more runs in the sixth, Furukawa belting another two-run double, but Patterson stopped the bleeding with his only strikeout and closer Seamons handled Hillcrest easily in the seventh.

Top Hillcrest hitters were Gillespie (3 hits, 3 runs) and catcher Evan Bowman (3 hits, 4 RBI). Taking the loss was relief pitcher Taylor Roe.

Wood River goes to Shelley and Highland of Pocatello for an overnight trip today and Saturday, July 11-12.

Then Nelson's squad visits one of the league's top teams in coach Gary Krumm's Kimberly Astros Monday, July 14. Bear Lake of Montpelier comes to Founders Field Wednesday, July 16 for a pair of games.

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