Wood River High School varsity softball coach Dale Martin will always remember the resolve shown by his 2010 senior captain Alex Lindbloom.
The spunky four-year starting catcher came into Martin's office the day after last Monday's demoralizing 19-18 first-round loss to the Minico Spartans in the Great Basin Conference tournament at Twin Falls.
Because of the setback, Wood River faced almost a certain early exit in the six-team double elimination tournament. Shaky on defense and tentative at the plate in the loss, the Wolverines would have to win four straight games to earn a berth to the State 4A tourney May 20-22 at Pocatello.
Lindbloom was undeterred, despite the uphill climb. "Coach, we're going to state!" she told Martin. After it was all said and done, the coach said, "Alex wouldn't let them lose. She kept the team together."
True to Lindbloom's prediction, Wood River looked like a different team when the young Wolverines took the field at Twin Falls High School last Wednesday. The #4-seeded Hailey girls stayed alive with 22-0 and 14-3 run-rule victories over #6 Burley and #5 Minico.
For its third of three games covering six hours Wednesday, Wood River upset #2-seeded Canyon Ridge (24-7) by an 11-6 score. The result put Wood River up against top-seeded Twin Falls in the all-important semi-final Thursday. The winner would earn a state berth. The loser would go home.
And Twin Falls (21-8) was the team going home, despite the three Twin Falls victories over WRHS by a lopsided 43-5 score back on April 23 and 24. Wood River put away a dramatic 4-1 triumph in eight innings to earn its third straight State 4A tourney berth, and its fourth state trip in five years.
The girls won Martin over. He said, "In my 44 years of coaching, I've never had a team that turned it around like this one did. Pitching, defense and hitting—we did everything well. Everybody stepped up."
Wood River, after all, had lost 10 straight games from April 17 through May 3 and didn't play well against good teams during that stretch. But, beginning May 6-7 with a three-game sweep of winless Burley, the Wolverines went on a 7-2 tear outscoring foes 117-56.
During their six games in the conference tournament, Wood River tallied 69 runs and batted .421 (77-for-183) with 17 extra-base hits. After the loss to Minico, they out-hit foes 59-19 and committed only five errors in 32 pressure-packed innings.
Martin said, "It was a fairy-tale season, probably the most rewarding of any I've coached because of where we were and where we ended up. And it was by far our best team hitting."
Wood River didn't end up with the GBC championship, #3-seeded Jerome (17-12) blanking a firing-on-fumes Wood River squad 6-0 in Thursday's championship game. But the Wolverines (13-16) had already secured the eighth state tournament trip in school history.
They did it the way you have to do it, one game at a time.
Wood River ousted Burley 22-0 with 15 hits sparked by K.T. Martinez (3 hits, 4 runs, 3 RBI), Madison Gove (3 hits, triple, 4 runs, 3 RBI), Lindbloom (2 runs, 3 RBI), Haylee Thompson (3 RBI), Levy (triple, 3 RBI) and Hunter Thompson (3 RBI). Levy (3 K, 2 BB) tossed a one-hit shutout at the 'Cats.
Martin said, "We approached the Burley game as a batting practice warm-up and then reminded the girls going into the Minico game that we had 10-runned Minico three times this season. We needed to get ahead early. That's what we did and never looked back."
Southpaw Gove (2-5) pitched the Minico game and did well, despite a few control problems in the second. But she pitched her way out of trouble and Wood River (13 hits) built a 7-1 lead in the third en route to the 14-3 five-inning win. Freshman Sydney Tidwell (3 hits, 3 runs, 2 RBI) had a big game and junior Josie Dawson drove home four.
Against Canyon Ridge, Wood River (16 hits) jumped ahead 6-0 in its first at-bat when Hunter Thompson cleared the bags with a triple. Levy (8 hits, 6 ER, 8 BB, 2 K) pitched a strong game and had excellent defensive support.
Beating top-seeded Twin Falls on its home field in Thursday's semi-final was another thing all together but, as Martin said, "We told the girls, you have to believe—you can do it. We've gotten this far and we can't give up now."
In its biggest game of the year, Wood River pitching delivered its finest outing of the season, holding a powerful Bruins lineup to just two hits. Gove started and pitched into the second, then Levy (6-plus innings, 0 ER, 2 BB) took her team home. The Wolverines played their best defensive game, committing no errors.
On a beautiful spring day Wood River and Twin Falls locked up in a 1-1 pitcher's duel, Brianna Bishop (9 hits, 4 ER, 6 BB, 11 K) throwing bullets for the Bruins. The Wolverines got their only run of regulation play in the first frame, Martinez putting down a bunt single and scoring on a two-out RBI single by Lindbloom.
Meanwhile, Hailey infielders made every play hit their way with 18 putouts, the other six outs made by the outfield.
After seven innings of well-played softball, Wood River started the eighth in the softball tiebreaker of putting speed-up runner Dawson at second base. Lindbloom earned a walk and both runners moved up to second and third. Then, one-out singles by Tidwell, Taylor Gove and Hunter Thompson delivered three runs for Hailey.
Trailing 4-1, Twin Falls also opened with runners on second and third, with no outs. That's when things got interesting.
Levy leaped and snagged a one-hopper over her head and threw to Lindbloom at home to get the lead runner. Lindbloom chased the Bruins runner down in a pickle and tagged her out, then looked over to see another Twin Falls runner straying off second base. Lindbloom made a strong throw to second baseman Tidwell, who made the sure tag for the twin killing.
And it was a "Twin" killing, since the next batter lofted a "can of corn" fly ball to center that ended the dramatic game.
Lakeland is first opponent
When the State 4A tournament convenes Thursday, May 20 at Pocatello High School, six of the eight teams will be returning from last year's 4A state meet at Post Falls. Mountain Home won its first-ever 4A title last year and is the favorite again, behind senior pitcher Nickayla Skinner (20-0).
The Wolverines, fourth at state last year, debut Thursday at 5 p.m. against the Lakeland Hawks (13-11). Lakeland got it done mostly with pitching and defense in north Idaho—beating Moscow (5-20) by 5-0 and 3-2 scores behind the pitching of senior Jamie Klopatek (7-4).
Martin's squad is familiar with Lakeland, having beaten the Hawks 12-4 last year at state en route to fourth place behind Mountain Home, Emmett and Kuna. But the Hawks have a long softball tradition dating back to 2001 and 2002 state championships as a 3A school.
The winner of Thursday's Lakeland-Wood River game advances to Friday's 12 noon clash with the winner of Blackfoot (22-4) against Kuna (22-4). The Kavemen dropped the 3rd District championship game 4-0 to Mountain Home last Thursday, ace pitcher Skinner whiffing 11 in her three-hit shutout.
On the other side of the bracket, the only new teams in the field will face off Thursday at 3 p.m. when Jerome (17-12) and Hillcrest of Idaho Falls (16-12) lock horns. Mountain Home opens against Pocatello.
Championship game of the double elimination tournament is Saturday at high noon. Wood River's highest-ever state tournament finish is fourth in 2003 and 2009. This is the 10th time that the 4A meet has been contested. No north Idaho team has won it. No team except five-time winner Bishop Kelly, now 5A, has won more than once.