They played their hearts out, so their silver trophies seemed sweet for two Wood River Baseball and Softball Association youth baseball teams during last weekend's 40th annual Ray Nelson Invitational tournament on six Hailey fields.
It's not often that two Wood River teams make it to the tournament championship games—2008 was the last time—but that's exactly what happened Saturday, July 14 at Nelson Field on a cool, damp and overcast day for baseball.
Wood River Green U-12 (12-and-under) ballplayers won their first four games in the 13-team double elimination "Majors" tournament before coming up short in two championship games—falling 8-7 and 16-4 to the Nampa Blue All-Stars.
The Wood River U-10 squad came very close to taking the title of the nine-team "Minors" 10-and-under tournament. However, the Mini-Cassia Sluggers stormed through the loser bracket with six straight wins including 5-4 and 10-4 decisions over the Hailey boys in the championship games.
Remarkably, coach Brian Nelson's U-10 Hailey boys played what was generally agreed to be the tournament's best game—a 6-4 victory in eight innings over a Caldwell club that had averaged 16 runs per game in its first two wins. The win lifted Wood River into Saturday's title game.
Clutch pitching by James Cantrell, John Radford and Andrew Nelson highlighted Wood River's victory. Caldwell didn't score in the final three innings despite having the bases loaded in the home sixth and runners in scoring position in both the seventh and eighth.
Over three days of the Ray Nelson, 30 teams played 64 ball games including the older boys in the 15-and-under (15-U) Babe Ruth division on the Founders Field and Wood River Middle School diamonds. Winning 15-U was last year's 12-U champion East Boise 7-2 over Caldwell.
East Boise won its four U-15 games 5-3 over the Treasure Valley Black Sox, 4-2 over Wood River, and 10-5 and 7-2 over runner-up Caldwell. Twin Falls captured third place, and Northside the consolation title.
This was the fifth year for the Donnelley Sports Skills Challenge for U-12 players at the Nelson Invitational.
Colby Whitehead, a left-handed batter for Wood River Green U-12, won the Donnelley Sports Home Run Derby—cracking out six taters in a row on two separate occasions.
Tournament director Heather Colvin agreed it was a special three-day weekend of making memories for all the young players, their parents and supporters. Such mid-summer youth baseball tourneys in the Wood River Valley date to 1956, the last 40 years held in Ray Nelson's name.
Starting in 1972, the tourney has been named for Hailey baseball booster Ray Nelson, who bequeathed a love of the game to his family and friends before passing away in 1970.
Wood River High School head baseball coach Matt Nelson, a grandson of Ray Nelson, was the umpire-in-chief last weekend and worked a steady shift behind home plate.
Nelson said, "I had a great weekend watching the future of the program. I'm very excited to see what the future holds." Indeed, the 10-U title game featured a grandson, Andrew Nelson, and great-grandson, Blake Nelson, of Ray Nelson.
Matt Nelson thanked last weekend's umpires, including:
U-15 tournament: Harold Nelson, Brandon Beall, Ken Uhrig and Anthony Anderson;
U-12/U-10 umpires: David Nelson, Pat Ballou, Michale Brunker, Greg Wakefield, Finn Isaacson, Will Long, Jeff Farrow, Aimee Ploss, Leslie Ploss, Tyler Powell, Kyle Scuza, Matt Douthit, Jared Anderson and Scott Nelson.
Match-ups in the Majors
Coach Charlie Dunn's Wood River Green U-12 squad (4-2, 53-37 runs scored/against) captured its first two games 19-3 over the Meridian Maniacs and 6-3 over Jerome Northside.
Canyon Macdonald and Jett Erickson each had two hits against Meridian. In the Jerome game, Whitehead's RBI double sparked a three-run Hailey third for a 4-0 lead, then Jack Stevens chipped in with an RBI double for a 6-1 cushion.
Next, Wood River posted a 7-3 victory over the U-12 squad that eventually placed third, the Nampa Bilt Rebels. Ike Buxton was the starting pitcher for Wood River Green and he got plenty of early run support from his team's 14-hit attack.
Whitehead conked a two-run HR in the three-run Hailey first, then Erickson and Whitehead (double) had back-to-back hits in the three-run second. Contributing two hits each for the winners were Wilson Dunn, Buxton and Alec Broman.
The outcome sent Wood River into what became its first of three meetings with a physically bigger team in the Nampa Blue All-Stars. This time, the Hailey boys prevailed 10-4 with some great pitching by Macdonald (4 2/3 innings, 3 runs, retired 9 of the first 10) and reliever Erickson (3 hits, 1 run).
Wood River (11 hits) got all the runs it needed with a six-hit, six-run third. Stevens doubled to start the uprising, then Jake Blackburn singled followed by hits off the bats of shortstop Dunn (3 hits, 3 runs), Erickson (double, triple, 2 runs), Buxton and Macdonald.
In the fifth, Dunn belted a 3-2 pitch over the left field fence for a two-run homer.
The defense featuring catcher Whitehead, first baseman Klayton Douthit, second sacker Tiernan Naghsh and third baseman Macdonald did the rest behind closer Erickson. The outfielders were Broman in left, Buxton in center and Hunter Stewart in right. Nampa loaded the bases in the home sixth, but Erickson enticed a line drive to Macdonald that ended the game.
Nampa Blue All-Stars earned a rematch with Hailey, nipping Nampa Bilt Rebels 10-9. And Wood River needed only one win to become the first local team to win the Nelson since Wood River Gold in 2009.
In the first championship game, another six-run Wood River uprising erased a 4-1 deficit and put the Hailey boys ahead 7-4. This time, however, Nampa pushed across two runs in the fourth and two more in the fifth while holding Wood River scoreless to prevail 8-7.
Stevens had a two-run single and Whitehead added two hits.
Nampa Blue out-hit Wood River 16-7 in the deciding game and won going away 16-4 with seven-run and six-run explosions in the third and sixth. Hailey's main highlights came on defense—a fine running catch by left fielder Broman and an accurate throw from Buxton to Macdonald that cut down a Nampa baserunner.
U-12 consolation winner was Twin Falls Patriots 3-2 over the Nampa Lightning.
Down to the wire in U-10
Brian Nelson's Wood River White boys looked strong beating Burley 17-1 and Meridian Maulers 13-4 in early games.
Huck Sprong (3 hits, double), Christian Bothwell (3 hits) and Jake Gorham (3 runs) led the way against Burley. John Radford (4 hits, 2 runs), Andrew Nelson (2 hits, double) and James Cantrell (2 hits, double) sparked the Meridian win that featured an eight-run first.
That set the stage for the epic 6-4 eight-inning victory over Caldwell. Starting pitcher Cantrell threw strikes from the outset, but Caldwell pecked away for a 3-1 lead in the second. In the visitor third, a leadoff walk by Radford, RBI double by Cantrell (2 hits, 3 runs) and two-out RBI single by Bothwell tied the game at 3-3.
Down to its last three outs and trailing 4-3, Wood River tied it 4-4 in the sixth when Cantrell opened with a single and scored on an outfield error.
Pitching in relief of Cantrell (4 innings, 3 hits, 7 K, 5 BB), Radford (3 1/3 innings, 2 hits, 8 K) doused fires in the sixth and seventh. Andrew Nelson led off the eighth with a single and Cantrell tomahawked another hit to left field, scoring Nelson. Sprong walked, and Bothwell (2 hits) delivered an RBI single.
Staked to a 6-4 lead, Radford put a Caldwell runner aboard. With one out, coach Nelson summoned Andrew Nelson as the closer. He got two strikeouts with the tying runs on base, and gave Wood River a ticket to the championship.
Mini-Cassia Sluggers (7-1 tourney), having already played and won two games Saturday by 11-5 and 11-6 scores, ousted Caldwell 8-7 in the loser bracket and moved into the title game against Wood River.
Capitalizing on five walks and just one hit, Wood River jumped ahead 2-0 after two innings. But the Sluggers scored five runs for a 5-2 lead in the home third—Rylin Chandler and Boone Bierman each delivering two-run singles off of Hailey pitcher Andrew Nelson.
Wood River got two runs back in the fourth.
Radford drilled an RBI double into the outfield gap that scored Ashton Tanner, then Cantrell lifted a bases-loaded sacrifice fly sending Blake Nelson home. But an alert Sluggers relay cut down Radford at home on a Huck Sprong single, and Hailey still trailed 5-4.
Cantrell came on to pitch in the fourth and got six straight outs—shortstop Andrew Nelson making two fine plays. Hailey had one final chance to tie it in the sixth after a two-out double by Blake Nelson, but the Sluggers got the final infield out on a close play at second to erase the potential tying run.
In the deciding game, Mini-Cassia (13 hits) had two much firepower (3-run fourth, 4-run fifth) and breezed to the title 10-4. Leading Hailey (10 hits) were Andrew Nelson (3 hits), Radford and Blake Nelson (2 hits each), and Bothwell (2 hits).
Other Hailey players were Axel Diehl, Zane Barckholtz, Colby Speth, Deke Burrell and Tuffer Manning.
Ray Nelson Invitational baseball tournament results
July 12-14, 2012 at Nelson Field, South Valley Sports Complex softball field, Keefer Field and Woodside Elementary School field, all in Hailey, the 40th annual youth baseball tournament held in memory of Hailey's Ray Nelson.
MAJORS 12-U DIVISION
1—Nampa Blue All-Stars 6-1
2—Wood River Green 4-2
3—Nampa Bilt Rebels 3-2
Twin Falls Patriots 3-2
Nampa Lightning 3-3
Mini-Cassia Swagger 2-2
Meridian Maniacs 1-3
Twin Falls Colonials 1-3
Wood River Black 0-3
Nampa Blue All-Stars 8, Wood River Green 7
Nampa Blue All-Stars 16, Wood River Green 4 (championship)
Twin Falls Patriots 3, Nampa Lightning 2 (consolation championship)
MINORS 10-U DIVISION
1—Mini-Cassia Sluggers 7-1
2—Wood River White 3-2
Meridian Maulers 1-2
Boise Aces 1-2
Twin Falls Cowboys 1-2
Meridian Chaos 1-3
Mini-Cassia Sluggers 5, Wood River White 4
Mini-Cassia Sluggers 10, Wood River White 4 (tournament championship)
1—East Boise 4-0
3—Twin Falls 3-2
Treasure Valley Black Sox 2-2
Wood River 13-U 1-2
Wood River 14-U 0-3
East Boise 7, Caldwell 2 (tournament championship)