Varsity Extra

Surrounded by off-the-field controversy, Idaho powerhouse one step away from another title

Timberline third baseman Layton Wagner makes a diving stop, then pops up and throws out Post Falls Jake Pfennigs Friday during the 5A state semifinals at Borah High.
Timberline third baseman Layton Wagner makes a diving stop, then pops up and throws out Post Falls Jake Pfennigs Friday during the 5A state semifinals at Borah High. doswald@idahostatesman.com

A lesser team would have folded. But not Timberline.

With drama, controversy and off-the-field distractions swirling around the Wolves’ baseball program, Timberline kept racking up win after win. Timberline added another one Friday night, holding off Post Falls 10-8 in the 5A state semifinals to book a return trip to the state championship game.

Timberline (18-10) takes on Bonneville (24-5) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Borah High for a shot at the seventh state title in program history.

“There is definitely something about this team,” Timberline senior center fielder Connor Riddle said. “We are more than just a baseball team. We’re definitely family. A lot of us have been through a lot with each other, whether it be baseball or whether it be life.”

[Related: Full state baseball, softball tournament brackets]

The Wolves entered the season with sky-high expectations with eight returning starters from last year’s state runner-up squad. But then the season started.

Timberline scuffled to a 5-6 record before the Boise School District suspended head coach Jeff Reifman pending an investigation. It declined to reveal what the investigation was about. Reifman later resigned even after he said the investigation found no wrongdoing, setting off a silent protest from the Wolves’ players on senior night.

But after falling to 5-8, Timberline has won 13 of its last 15 games behind interim coach Kirk Copeland and the state’s most potent lineup.

A day after hanging 17 runs on Highland in the first round of the state tournament, Timberline erupted for 10 more runs Friday, hitting double digits for the 15th time in 28 games. Riddle broke a 6-6 tie in the sixth with an RBI double, Jake Randall added a sacrifice fly and Riddle came home on a wild pitch later in the inning to give the Wolves a cushion.

But Timberline had to bite its nails as Post Falls loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh, placing the tying run at second base. Jonah Hultberg ended the rally when he struck out Chase Cripps with a wild pitch, then scurried to cover home and touch the plate to end the threat and set off a field storming.

“The adversity with Reifman was really hard,” said Hultberg, who played shortstop and catcher before earning the save. “But we came together and played for the guy on our left, played for the guy on our right and went out on the field and put everything out there.”

Timberline returns to the state championship for the second straight year, and third time in four years, after finishing second to Rocky Mountain last season. Riddle said the Wolves have heard all year how last season was a fluke, which has only motivated the team.

“We wanted to get back here and prove to everybody it’s not a fluke we made it here last year,” Riddle said. “But we want to go win this year. It’s our time, our turn.”

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Timberline junior Jonah Hultberg, right, scores on the heels of teammate Matt Chambers, left, while dodging the tag from Post Falls catcher Nate Buer during the second inning of the 5A state semifinals Friday at Borah. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

5A: BONNEVILLE CLINCHES TITLE SPOT

Bonneville routed Post Falls 11-1 in six innings in the state semifinals, using the mercy rule to advance to its first state title game since winning the 4A championship in 2013. The Bees last reached the 5A title game in 1992 and has won 16 straight games.

Junior Caden Christensen earned the win for Bonneville, holding Lewiston to one run on three hits while striking out two. Andrew Olaveson led the Bees’ lineup, going 2-for-2 with a double and two RBIs.

4A: UNDERDOG MIDDLETON MAKES ANOTHER RUN

Middleton is built for May.

Two years after entering the 4A state tournament under .500 and making a run to win the championship, the Vikings are one game away from doing it again.

Middleton (14-16) mercy-ruled Southern Idaho Conference rival Skyview 10-0 in six innings Friday at Idaho Falls’ Melaleuca Field, clinching its second state championship game berth in the past three years.

The Vikings face Minico (24-5) in the championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday at Melaleuca Field. Minico beat Vallivue 15-5 in six innings to reach the finals. Vallivue (23-6) drops into the third-place game against Skyview (19-9) at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Middleton senior pitcher Hayden Smith fired a two-hit shutout of Skyview while striking out seven and walking six. He worked in and out of trouble all afternoon as Middleton has outscored two district champions by a combined score of 17-1 at state.

The Vikings built a 2-0 lead through three innings before breaking open the game in a six-run fourth. Middleton sent 10 batters to the plate, including Case Carter and Joe Orrison, who both smacked two-run singles.

Middleton started the season 0-6 and finished fourth in the SIC in the regular-season standings.

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