There's no sugarcoating it the Southern Idaho Conference has dominated the 5A state baseball tournament.
The championship trophy has not left the Treasure Valley in six years, with five teams capturing the hardware in that timespan. In the past 12 tournaments, only Lake City (2007), Lewiston (2006) and Idaho Falls (2002) have interrupted the SIC's reign of supremacy.
This year's three-day tournament starts Thursday at Memorial Stadium.
Hold the yawns for now. This tournament might spice things up a bit. The Valley, once again, is well represented with Capital, Eagle, Mountain View and Rocky Mountain, but competition has percolated across the northern and eastern portions of the state, making the field, dare we say:
"They're by far one of the best teams, if not the best team," Capital coach Jerry Hollow said of Coeur d'Alene, the Eagles' first round opponent. "We're going to have to play really well to stay with them."
Fresh off its fourth consecutive district championship, Coeur d'Alene returns all but one player from last season's state runner-up team.
"Overall, we're pretty athletic," said Vikings coach Nick Rook, whose team is riding a 12-game win streak. "Our group hit 26 home runs and broke the school record."
Rook highlighted Nick Nyquist, Sean Sutton and Kolby DeHaas, who accounted for 13 home runs, five triples, 33 doubles, 76 RBIs and a collective batting average of .421.
Despite dropping two straight in a three-game district championship series, Capital easily led the SIC in average runs against (2.8 rpg), relinquishing 62 runs in 22 games, while advertising one of the deepest rotations in the state with lefties Sam Wong (5-0) and Colbi Paul (7-1) and Garret Pearson (3-2). The three combined for an 88-29 strikeout-walk ratio.
Mountain View, which ousted defending champion Timberline in the final game of district, faces Highland, which showcases the top record in the field at 22-2.
"If we play our best baseball, I think we have as good a shot as anyone," coach Mike Green said. "If we don't, we don't have anything to be ashamed about, because sometimes baseball works that way."
Highland experienced the sour taste of Timberline's upset journey last season, ultimately finishing third. Similar to Capital, Green's squad has succeeded behind elite pitching from Zach Arzola (36 strikeouts), Aaron Pope (77 strikeouts) and Greg Casper (48 strikeouts). The Mavericks led by seniors Cody Reilly, Connor Odneal, Branson Trube and Kody Garvin aren't intimidated. They beat Highland during summer in American Legion play.
"In our own minds, our kids know they can beat them," Mountain View coach Matt Rasmussen said. "I don't get too much into records. It's not their fault, but I do believe our conference is tougher. Does a 22-2 record translate up here? Who knows? I know they're a very good baseball team."
Eagle, the No. 1 seed from District Three, plays Madison at 4:30 p.m. Historically, the state tournament has been decided by low-scoring games, which is beneficial for the Mustangs, who were 7-2 in games decided by one run this season.
Eagle's Griffin Pape and Nate Lainhart teamed up for a 10-3 record on the mound this season, while J.T. Williams has yet to record a blown save.
In the 7:15 p.m. nightcap, Lewiston hovered at .500 while suffering from suspensions and injuries, but finished the season 8-2 at full-strength. The Bengals lean on ace Kade Woods, a two-year junior starter with a 5-2 record and Jake Ralstin, a three-year all-league catcher with a career .470 batting average.
Their opponent, Rocky Mountain, discovered its late-season groove, finally piecing together its talent-laden roster featuring Jackson Cluff, Ryan Beard, Rob Christianson, Matt Roll and Jarett Thoren.
"In a single-elimination baseball tournament, there's so many variables," Lewiston coach Tom Grunenfelder said. "The best team doesn't always win this tournament. It's the team that plays well for 21 innings and limits mistakes."
Trevor Phibbs: 377-6424; Twitter: @IDS_Phibbs