It was getting a little chilly and close to sunset Tuesday at Hailey's Founders Field when Wood River senior pitcher Jake Freeman got ready to throw the final pitch of the high school baseball game between the Wolverines and Jerome Tigers.
Freeman didn't know it would be his final pitch.
He'd thrown 34 already, in just one inning of relief. Wild, he was having a hard time finding the plate. Out of his 34 pitches, 22 were balls. Home plate seemed as small as a postage stamp. His coaches paced. His pitches sailed and dove. They had a mind of their own.
Wood River had entered the seventh and final frame of the Great Basin Conference game with a comfortable 9-5 lead. Freeman, the third of three Hailey pitchers, needed three outs to send every-body home for dinner and preserve Wood River's first league win of 2011.
Instead, the rangy righty walked the first three Tiger batters and hit the fourth, sprinkling three wild pitches in with the befuddling mix of hard stuff gone daffy. Finally, Freeman found a little groove and landed a couple of first-pitch strikes. With the lead nibbled to 9-8, he whiffed two Tigers looking on 2-2 offerings.
As the potential game-tying Tiger runner lurked at third, Freeman went to work against Jerome first baseman Tanner Holyoak, whose RBI double in the fourth had sparked Jerome's three-run outburst for an early 5-2 lead. The count went full at 3-2 and the crowd held its collective breath.
Freeman didn't rush. He settled down and did something unusual. He took a few seconds and leisurely tucked in his shirt while onlookers twiddled their thumbs. Suddenly a Dapper Dan, ready for the prom, he whistled a hard one and blew Holyoak away—his third straight strikeout, looking.
And Wood River (3-7, 1-2 league), getting five of its nine runs on clutch two-out hits, walked away with a 9-8 league win after dropping a pair of games to the same club 2-1 and 18-3 at Jerome April 1. The Wolverines out-hit Jerome 10-6 including four crisp doubles.
Jerome (7-3, 5-1) dropped its first league game after sweeping Canyon Ridge (5-6, 0-6) by 9-3, 11-4 and 7-3 last weekend.
The winning pitcher, his first win as a Wolverine in three seasons, was senior righthander Taz-min Lyons (79 pitches in 5 innings, 3 earned runs, 6 hits, 2 walks, 3 K). Junior righty Collin Dean worked an effective and scoreless sixth, and Freeman earned the save.
"It was a great day for us, so good to get the home opener out of the way and get a win," said sixth-year Wood River coach Matt Nelson, whose 45-93 record includes a 20-18 mark in games played at Founders.
Nelson added, "Taz threw one of his best games, and Collin came in and threw well in the sixth. At the plate, our whole line-up did what they had to do, and our 'super soph' Nick Brunker caught well and hit the ball when we needed it."
Wood River scratched across a pair of unearned runs in the first and third innings on two-out RBIs by clean-up hitter Dean (2 hits, 3 RBI). After Jerome grabbed its 5-2 lead, Brunker's one-out double into the right center field gap sparked a three-run rally.
No. 9 hitter Brandon Beall (2 runs) scorched a two-out, RBI double to left and leadoff hitter Zach Israel (2 hits, 4 runs) tied the game 5-5 with a long one-hop double to the center field fence. In the home fifth, after an Alex Thomas single, Brunker delivered again—a long, first-pitch double over the center field's noggin, a 6-5 lead.
Wood River padded its lead with two more unearned runs in the home sixth, a rally sparked by Beall's leadoff walk.
Although Lyons and senior Alex Padilla won't be available because of other school commit-ments, Wood River will play a three-game series with the Minico Spartans (8-3, 3-1) today, Friday at Rupert and Saturday, April 16 at Founders (12 noon and 2 p.m. league twinbill).
Wood River then visits Burley (4-6, 1-2) for a make-up doubleheader Tuesday, April 19. Reigning league champion Twin Falls (9-2, 3-1) will look to pad its league record against Canyon Ridge this weekend.