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5A, 4A baseball preview: Sizing up the top teams, sleepers and players to watch

Rocky Mountain celebrates first state baseball title since 2012

The Rocky Mountain High baseball team beat Timberline 11-4 for the Idaho 5A state baseball championship. Left-hander Matt Hansen recorded the final out.
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The Rocky Mountain High baseball team beat Timberline 11-4 for the Idaho 5A state baseball championship. Left-hander Matt Hansen recorded the final out.

The high school baseball season kicks into high gear this weekend with the Buck’s Bags Spring Classic descending upon the Treasure Valley.

That makes it the perfect time to step back and take stock of the 5A and 4A Southern Idaho Conferences this season. Below are the top players and teams to watch, along with full preseason coaches’ polls conducted by the Idaho Baseball Coaches Association.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ethan Christianson, Rocky Mountain

The senior left-handed pitcher has signed with Seattle University and is the state’s reigning Gatorade player of the year after posting a 7-0 record with a 0.72 ERA last season. He struck out 57 in 39 innings and opponents hit .102 off him.

Gabe Hughes, Rocky Mountain

The powerful junior right-hander teams with Christianson to form one of the state’s most dominating one-two punches on the mound. But the Gonzaga commit can also cause damage with the bat in his hand.

Alex Guerrero, Eagle

A two-time, first-team 5A SIC selection, the left-handed swinging catcher has terrorized opposing pitchers for years. The Washington signee and Area Code Games pick hit .452 last year with three home runs and 24 RBIs.

Spencer Schwer, Borah

The left-handed pitcher, first-team all-conference pick and Walla Walla Community College commit can attack hitters with three pitches on both sides of the plate. “(He’s) a big-game pitcher that gets better when the stakes are high,” Mountain View coach Matt Rasmussen said.

Logan Petet, Centennial

The senior left-handed pitcher didn’t allow a run during his appearances at the Area Code Games last summer and signed with Utah Valley in the fall. The first-team all-conference pick went 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA and 65 strikeouts for the Patriots a year ago.

Connor Butler, Bishop Kelly

The senior left-handed pitcher and outfielder is one of the early favorites for 4A SIC Player of the Year. The Hawaii signee can touch 91 mph on the radar gun and posted a 1.71 ERA last spring. He’ll also lead the Knights at the plate as a middle-of-the-order threat.

Jayson Hibbard, Skyview

The senior attacks the zone with a three-pitch arsenal, forcing opponents to swing early in counts. After earning first-team all-conference honors last year, he’s committed to an offer from the College of Southern Idaho.

Timberline Connor Riddle
TImberline’s Connor Riddle celebrates a two-run triple during last year’s 5A state championship game. He’s one of eight returning starters for the Wolves. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

5A SIC BREAKDOWN

THE FAVORITE: Rocky Mountain brings back a loaded squad as the defending district and state champ, including an envious pitching staff and four Division I commits or signees.

Christianson (Seattle) headlines the rotation, but the Grizzlies can also hand the ball to Hughes (Gonzaga) and Matt Hansen (College of Southern Idaho) to shut down opponents.

The Grizzlies shouldn’t have much trouble finding runs either with Kase Ogata (Boise State) and catcher Kaden Hollow (Purdue) leading the lineup. But Rocky Mountain coach Joe Santa Maria cautioned while the Grizzlies return six starters, four of them need to learn a new position.

THE CONTENDER: Timberline made a surprise run to the state championship game last season, where it finished second. Expect the Wolves to make waves again with eight returning starters.

Timberline brings back every player who hit a combined 40 home runs for its Double-A Legion team last summer. Jacob Randall, Alex McFarland-Smith and Connor Riddle lead the Wolves’ loaded lineup. But with an inexperienced pitching staff and infield, Timberline may need to slug its way back to state.

THE DARK HORSE: Capital features one of the deepest, most experienced and most talented pitching staffs in Tony Brulotte’s tenure, the Eagles’ coach said.

Senior David Litzenberger headlines the rotation with a fastball that touches 91 mph and a tight slider. And senior outfielder Grayson Sterling (Gonzaga) tops a lineup that will need to replace several big boppers from last year’s third-place finisher.

4A SIC BREAKDOWN

THE FAVORITE: Skyview won its fourth district title in five years last spring, and the Hawks bring back two of their top three arms in Hibbard and junior Bryson Vaughn.

Those two headline a group of five returning starters that will combine with a solid defense to make opponents scratch and claw for every run. But Skyview coach Ryan Bobo said the Hawks will need to find more consistency at the plate for a long postseason run.

THE CONTENDER: Bishop Kelly missed out on the state tournament last year and returns just two starters. But with Butler leading the way on the mound and at the plate, and a bevy of athletic players pressuring opponents with speed and small-ball tactics, the Knights remain a threat.

THE DARK HORSE: Vallivue brings back seven starters from last year’s state consolation champ, the only trophy the 4A SIC won at state.

The Falcons remain strong up the middle with senior shortstop Gabe Childs and junior catcher Cobe Lehman. Both earned first-team all-conference honors, and each can control the game at the plate and in the field.

Michael Lycklama: 208-377-6424, @MichaelLycklama

COACHES’ POLLS

5A SIC

Team (1st-place votes)

Last year

Pts

1. Rocky Mtn. (10)

22-5

142

2. Timberline (2)

21-8

125

3. Capital

19-8

113

4. Mtn. View

18-12

105

5. Eagle

15-12

93

6. Centennial

12-12-1

77

7. Borah

15-12

69

8. Columbia

11-18

56

9. Meridian

9-17

43

10. Kuna

11-15

38

11. Nampa

6-17

31

12. Boise

6-17

30

4A SIC

Team (1st-place votes)

Last year

Pts

1. Skyview (5)

24-5

58

2. Bishop Kelly (2)

16-11

56

3. Vallivue (1)

17-13

51

4. Middleton

17-11

41

5. Caldwell

8-15

27

6. Ridgevue

11-15

22

t-7. Emmett

5-20

16

t-7. Mtn. Home

7-18

16

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