Measuring your progress against a fundamentally sound team is always a good thing to do midway through the Idaho high school baseball season.
That's what the Wood River High School baseball team did last weekend in its three-game Great Basin Conference 4A series with coach Ben Frank's Minico Spartans from Rupert.
Last year's GBC runner-up Minico (11-3, 6-1 league) is on a collision course with last year's league champion Twin Falls (12-2, 6-1). The two league powerhouses have played once, Twin Falls winning 2-1. They have two more games to play.
And both will likely return to the State 4A tournament in May, like they did last year in battling to a third-place draw.
First, Frank tested his club against coach Matt Nelson's Wolverines last weekend. And Wood River (3-10, 1-5) found out quickly that it's a notch or two below Minico in development.
Minico swept the series 8-1, 11-1 and 9-0. The Spartans out-hit Wood River 27-13 and, more significantly, had only three errors in 20 innings to Wood River's 10. Situational hitting, solid pitching and baserunning, and team defense—all were Minico strong points.
Ninth-year Minico coach Frank (197-63) is one of Idaho's best high school coaches and his teams have the hardware to show for it. They own State 4A championships in 2005 and 2009, second at state in 2007, and five Great Basin league titles from 2005-09 before being ousted by Twin Falls in 2010.
Frank, from Paul, a 1997 Minico graduate, played for North Idaho College and pitched for Albertson College of Idaho before taking the Spartans job. He's had a few more good players than his contemporary Nelson, a 1995 Wood River graduate who also played college ball for North Idaho.
And Frank had a few more players than Nelson last weekend, since Wolverine senior pitcher Tazmin Lyons and senior outfielder Alex Padilla couldn't compete because of other school commitments.
Friday, Minico's slick-pitching righthanded sidewinder Casey Christiansen threw a two-hitter at home against Wood River, along with eight whiffs. Collin Dean smashed a solo homer for Hailey accounting for the 8-1 final. Just by spoiling two-strike pitches and putting the ball in play, Minico batters chipped away at Wolverine righty Dean in Saturday's first game at Hailey's Founders Field. Dean (104 pitches, 7 hits, 5 K) threw into the fifth inning, but Minico scored five unearned runs in its 11-1 six-inning triumph.
First baseman Alex Thomas (2 hits) led Wood River's six-hit attack and drove home Braxton Parish (leadoff double) with Hailey's only run in the sixth. Thomas' two-out single plated Parish against reliever Nate Hanks, who had taken over for Spartan starter and winner Slade Winmill (64 pitches, 4 hits, 0 earned runs, 3 K).
Kevin Jensen and Brandon Beall added Wolverine doubles.
Winmill and third baseman Shay Chandler each had three hits, and second baseman Andrew Frank (3 RBI) produced from the No. 8 spot in the order. Right fielder K.J. Redder sparked Minico's four-run third with a two-run double.
In Saturday's nightcap, Wood River senior righty Jake Freeman (1-3) kept his team close with five innings of work, and Minico led 3-0 after six. The Spartans assured their series sweep with a six-run seventh.
Wood River visited resurgent Burley (7-6, 4-2) for a make-up doubleheader Tuesday, April 19. The Bobcats swept the Jerome Tigers 5-3, 16-5 and 5-4 last weekend, sending Jerome (7-6, 5-4 league) to its fourth straight league loss.
Meanwhile, Twin Falls handled the Canyon Ridge Riverhawks (5-9, 0-9) by run-rule scores of 12-2, 19-1 and 10-0. The only league loss suffered by Twin Falls so far was to Burley by a 9-8 score in eight innings.
And Wood River plays Twin Falls this weekend. The Founders Field game is Friday, April 22 at 4:30 p.m., and the doubleheader at Bruins Stadium is Saturday, April 23 at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Next Tuesday, April 26, Wood River hosts Burley.