Conference races are tight as baseball season hits its stride in the Valley

rroberts@idahostatesman.comApril 12, 2014 

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Eagle High’s Kam Lane, center, is congratulated by teammates after his two-run hit in the bottom of the seventh inning Wednesday gave the Mustangs a 5-4 win over Meridian. Eagle has come from behind for nine of its 11 wins this season. Seven came on the Mustangs’ last at bat.

KYLE GREEN — kgreen@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

  • MOST RECENT 5A STATE CHAMPIONS

    2013: Timberline

    2012: Rocky Mtn.

    2011: Eagle

    2010: Timberline

    2009: Capital

    2008: Boise

    2007: Lake City

    2006: Lewiston

    2005: Borah

    2004: Timberline

    2003: Eagle

    2002: Idaho Falls

Eagle High coach Frank Wright has seen his share of baseball seasons in the 5A Southern Idaho Conference.

So when asked about the competitiveness of the league this season, Wright speaks with authority.

"The SIC this year is about as even as I have ever seen it," he said.

But it doesn't take a tenured coach to see the parity playing out on the field this season.

Heading into Friday's games, Eagle, Rocky Mountain and Capital were tied for first with 8-2 league records. Mountain View was a game back at 7-3, and defending state champion Timberline was tied for last at 1-9.

Meridian, which failed to qualify for the district tournament last season, was 6-4, including a victory over Eagle.

"The difference between No. 1 and No. 10 is literally probably a play here or a play there every game," said Meridian coach Rod Williams, whose Warriors defeated Eagle on a walkoff double Monday and lost on a walkoff triple Wednesday. "I think that summarizes how much parity there is."

Last season, Timberline started league play 1-7 and finished the regular season as the No. 7 team before going on a six-game postseason winning streak to win state for the third time since 2004.

"Our league is always good and it's extremely fun, but also a little bit stressful to get that state berth because it is a battle," Mountain View coach Matt Rasmussen said. "Our district tournament is very, very competitive."

The top four teams from District Three advance to state, where a Treasure Valley school has won the past six championships. Since 2003, only the 2006 (Lewiston) and 2007 (Lake City) championships have been won by a team outside of the Valley.

"One of the best parts about our league is there's nobody that's just a walkover, nobody that you take lightly," Rocky Mountain coach Jake Taylor said. "Every night you have to bring your 'A' game or you lose."

DISTRICT TOURNAMENT HAS NEW FORMAT

The top two teams from the 5A SIC regular season will advance to state. Those No. 1 and No. 2 teams will play a three-game series May 3, 6 and 8 to determine seeding. The remaining eight teams (seeds 3-10) will compete in the traditional district bracket for the league's third and fourth spots at state.

At the end of the 2013 season, coaches requested the changes, and they were approved by league athletic directors.

"The coaches asked that the top teams be rewarded for their body of work," Meridian Athletic Director Luke Wolf said.

The new format allows all 10 teams from the league to compete for a berth at state. In previous seasons, only the top eight teams from the regular season advanced to the district tournament.

This year's state tournament is May 15-17 at Memorial Stadium. The top two teams from the north and east also qualify for state to round out the eight-team field.

LEAGUE PLAY RECEIVES MINOR TWEAK

In past seasons, teams played a two-game series against conference opponents on back-to-back days.

The format was changed this year to allow a day in between games, which coaches say helps take some of the physical burden off pitchers.

4A SIC RACE A MIX OF OLD, NEW

It's no surprise to see Bishop Kelly competing for the top spot in the conference again this season.

The Knights have won eight regular-season titles in the past nine seasons and are winners of five district championships in that span.

But joining the Knights out front this year is a pair of teams that didn't fare so well last season.

Middleton finished last in league play in 2013, while Caldwell was fifth. Before Friday's games, the Cougars (6-2) were a half-game ahead of BK (5-2) and reigning district champion Skyview (5-2). The Vikings, who won a stretch of 10 straight games but are currently on a three-game losing streak, were in fourth place at 5-3.

"A lot of attitudes changed and once we started winning, they decided it was OK to win," Middleton coach Pete Jones said. "They got the attitude that they could win."

Skyview, the state runner-up in 2013 behind Bonneville, needed nine innings Thursday to edge Middleton 4-3.

"Right now, any team can beat anyone," said Skyview coach Ryan Bobo, who returns three players who saw significant playing time last season.

The top three teams from the 4A District Three Tournament advance to state, which has not been won by a Treasure Valley team since 2010 (Bishop Kelly).

DID YOU KNOW?

• 5A schools are considering a 12-team state tournament bracket beginning with the 2014-15 school year.

• This is the final season in which the 5A SIC features 10 teams and the 4A SIC nine. Next year, the 5A SIC will be comprised of Boise, Borah, Capital, Centennial, Columbia, Eagle, Meridian, Mountain View, Nampa, Rocky Mountain, Timberline and Vallivue. The 4A SIC will include Bishop Kelly, Caldwell, Kuna, Middleton, Mountain Home and Skyview.

• Emmett will join the 3A Snake River Valley next school year.

4A SIC WELCOMES TWO NEW COACHES

All 10 coaches in the 5A SIC returned from last season, but there are two new coaches in the nine-team 4A SIC.

• Tim Bourner has replaced Phil Diplock at Columbia. Bourner played for Treasure Valley Community College and the College of Idaho and most recently coached at Buhl.

• Middleton has a change at the top for the first time in 18 seasons. Pete Jones stepped in for Pete Dias, who retired at the end of last season. Jones has been an assistant coach at Middleton in football and baseball since 2005.

Rachel Roberts: 377-6422, Twitter: @IDS_VarsityX

DIVISION I, LOCAL COLLEGE COMMITS

• Ryan Beard, Rocky Mountain (2015), Air Force

• Jackson Cluff, Rocky Mountain (2015), BYU

• Trey Dennis, Borah, College of Southern Idaho

• Jake Dewey, Centennial, Northwest Nazarene

• Sage Diehm, Skyview (2015), North Carolina

• Kody Garvin, Mountain View, College of Southern Idaho

• Tim Jones, Meridian, Northwest Nazarene

• Bowen Ogata, Bishop Kelly, Utah

• Garret Pearson, Capital, Lewis Clark State College

• Cole Skinner, Borah, College of Southern Idaho

• Branson Trube, Mountain View, Gonzaga

• J.T. Williams, Eagle, Washington

FOR A LIST OF NEARLY 200 KNOWN COMMITMENTS BY TREASURE VALLEY ATHLETES IN BASEBALL AND OTHER SPORTS, VISIT BLOGS.IDAHOSTATESMAN.COM/VARSITYEXTRA

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