Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Spring training done, Hailey is back to the Basin

WRHS baseball team charges into league play

Express Staff Writer

Ten games into the 2009 prep baseball season, spring training is over for the Wood River High School baseball team—and the Great Basin Conference West scramble is underway for the Wolverines.

Coach Matt Nelson's WRHS nine (4-6, 0-0 league) opened league play Tuesday at its home Founders Field in Hailey with a tough assignment against four-time defending Great Basin champion Minico of Rupert (4-9, 0-0). Minico will host Wood River today, Wednesday to complete the back-to-back, home-and-home.

The double dip for Wood River started a stretch of 10 games in 14 days, including all six in league play that will determine seedings for the four-team Great Basin tournament starting Thursday, April 30.

Beating 2005 State 4A champion Minico (101-35 since 2005) is like beating the Yankees, since the Spartans own league tournament titles over Jerome the past three years and their 2005 Basin championship over Wood River. But Nelson's 2008 squad pushed a 27-2 Minico squad to the limit before dropping the State 4A tournament third-place game 7-6 last May.

Nelson said, "Minico is always competitive but I like our chances. Our bats are coming around. If we cut down on mental errors and play our best baseball, we'll be fine. We've got things to work on, but we're definitely on the ups now."

Wood River hosts the Blackfoot Broncos Friday, April 10 for a Founders Field non-league twinbill at 3:30 p.m., then entertains Jerome Tuesday, April 14 at 4:30 p.m. to open another league home-and-home.

Jerome (5-3), a twinbill loser 7-6 and 4-3 at Middleton Saturday, has a home-and-home with Burley (5-11) this week. Burley has dropped five straight.

Wolverines get games in

Nelson's squad managed to squeeze in five games last week, winning three of them including non-conference 4A doubleheader splits with Bonneville and Mountain Home.

Thursday, host Wood River won 8-5 over Bonneville (5-7) behind the pitching of righthander Greg Wakefield and dropped the 7-2 nightcap. Saturday at Mountain Home, the Wolverines took the opening game 9-6 and fell 12-1 in the five-inning, mercy-rule finale.

"We're starting to play well," said Nelson, whose slow-starting squad was 1-4 out of the gate, all on the road. "One game at a time, we're getting better, although there are a lot more lessons to be learned."

Thursday, Wakefield (1-2) kept the Wolverines close on the hill and contributed an RBI double in Hailey's two-run third that put the home team ahead for good at 4-3. A Keven Abbott single and double by Michale Brunker (3 hits, 3 runs) started that rally.

Sean Bunce's RBI double followed by a run-scoring triple by Brunker in the sixth gave reliever Shane Friesen some breathing room, and Wood River (9 hits) won 8-5. "I'm proud of the way we played the first game," said Nelson.

Wood River (4 errors) struggled in the Bonneville nightcap despite outhitting the Bees 9-4. "We hit the ball hard all game but just couldn't find the holes," Nelson said. An outstanding outfield catch on Nathan Farrow's bases-loaded drive with no outs in the fourth helped Bonneville prevail 7-2.

"Nathan is starting to turn into a good varsity baseball player and good catcher," said Nelson about the sophomore.

Brunker (3 hits, 2 triples) stayed hot at the plate, while Travis Job (2 hits) and Jimmy Hague (RBI triple) chipped in.

At Mountain Home, junior righty Zak Sjoberg (1-0) won his first varsity game with a six-inning four-hitter in the 9-6 decision over the 2008 state qualifier Tigers (3-10). He spotted Mountain Home a 5-0 lead then Hailey (10 hits) roared back with a four-run third.

Abbott reached base as a hit batsman, Bunce worked a gritty nine-pitch walk, Brunker delivered an RBI single, Wakefield (3 hits) uncorked a two-run double and Sjoberg added a two-out RBI single. Then, Wood River tied it 5-5 with an unearned run in the fourth.

Wood River kept the pressure on. The visitors made it 8-5 with a three-run fifth sparked by Wakefield's leadoff three-bagger. Bryan Bray and Jimmy Hague (2 hits) came through with RBI singles and Abbott (2 hits) made it 8-5 with a run-scoring single. Then Wakefield pitched the seventh in relief.

Nelson said about Sjoberg's outstanding effort, "Zak started a little shaky, but from the third inning on, he really settled down and retired eight in a row at one point—getting a ton of ground balls. And our defense settled in to stop them."

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