5A state baseball: After up and down season, Timberline seeking title against a tough field

ccripe@idahostatesman.comMay 16, 2013 

Timberline High senior Tommy Barker is a key pitcher and productive designated hitter for the Wolves. Barker and the Wolves begin state tournament action Friday at Memorial Stadium.

JOE JASZEWSKI — jjaszewski@idahostatesman.com

District Three's dominance of the 5A baseball state tournament is a product of its depth.

And never was that more apparent than this year, when perennial power Timberline started 1-7 in the Southern Idaho Conference, landed the seventh seed in the district tournament and won the district championship.

The Wolves are one of five Treasure Valley teams who have combined to give District Three five straight state titles. Four of them are in this week's state tournament - Rocky Mountain (2012), Eagle (2011), Timberline (2010) and Boise (2008). Borah gives the Valley five entries in the eight-team field that begins play Thursday morning at Memorial Stadium.

"I really think any of the five teams that are in it can win it," Eagle coach Frank Wright said. "It's just a matter of getting hot."

That's what happened with Timberline (14-11), which at one time was in danger of missing the district tournament in its home park (eight of 10 teams qualify) and as recently as last week was on the verge of giving coach Larry Price his first losing season in more than two decades at the high school level.

The board in right field reminded the players every day of the expectations at Timberline, which has won four high school state titles since 1999 and four American Legion state titles since 2006.

"It's definitely not the best mood," junior second baseman Michael Stefanic said of the early-season struggles. "Everybody's tense because our program has such a storied tradition with all those numbers up on the board there - so we're used to winning. We had to find a way to get back to where we wanted to be and where we knew we could be."

This was not a rebuilding year. There was plenty of talent on the roster when the season began for a team that finished second at districts last year and won the American Legion state title in 2011.

And the Wolves drew some solace from the fact that most of their losses came in close games.

"We were losing by one run, two runs," said Cody Price, a senior pitcher/shortstop and son of the coach. "Most of those games, you could go back and point out one thing why we lost. And now we've cleaned that up and we're winning ballgames."

Price tied the school record with his 18th career win during the district tournament, when he won the first two games and closed the third with a strikeout.

Senior Tommy Barker's pitching and hitting, and Stefanic's hitting also have keyed the charge.

The leadoff batter is freshman Parker Price, who plays third base - right next to his brother. "It's cool," Cody said, "because I've grown up going to every game."

Larry Price has enjoyed the experience - it's the only year his boys will play at Timberline together - but those ground balls to the left side can be nerve-racking.

An error by his own kid, Price said, is like five errors by anyone else.

"My bald spot has gotten a little bit bigger," he said. "It's a unique thing. I've been coaching for 20-plus years everybody else's kids. I've taken them as my own, because I just think the world of every kid I've ever had the privilege to coach during that time, but to have your own two children involved in the program and to see the success they've had and have them contribute to the success of this team, it's been great."

Timberline opens the state tournament at 1 p.m. against Boise (15-10). It was a sweep of the Braves that ignited the Wolves' comeback. They also beat them in the district tournament - part of a 10-3 run for Timberline in its final 13 conference/district games.

But those games mean little compared to this one.

"The way we approach the district championship is that's great and all, but that's not our goal," Stefanic said. "Our goal is to put another number up on that board."

To do that, they likely will have to deal with some familiar foes. Defending champ Rocky Mountain (23-4), which stumbled at districts, is on Timberline's side of the bracket. Borah (17-8) and Eagle (17-8), the team Timberline beat in the district final, are on the other side.

Highland (22-3) and Coeur d'Alene (19-5) come to town with impressive records, too - leaving Madison (10-12) as the only team with a worse record than Timberline.

"It's going to be a long shot for us because of our record right now," Price said, "but district was a great thing for us because we got a little momentum. We learned how to win against the best competition, I believe, in the state in our own league."

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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