Varsity Extra

'Divided' no more. Roller-coaster season ends with state title for perennial Idaho power.

Timberline storms the field after winning 2018 Idaho 5A state baseball title

Timberline beat Bonneville 7-4 in the 2018 Idaho 5A state championship game when reliever Tomas Vizgirdas escaped a bases-loaded jam.
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Timberline beat Bonneville 7-4 in the 2018 Idaho 5A state championship game when reliever Tomas Vizgirdas escaped a bases-loaded jam.

Both of Tomas Vizgirdas’ hands trembled in the moment.

The Timberline senior hadn’t pitched in more than a year because of a shoulder injury. But with a four-run lead, the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning of the 5A state championship baseball game, Vizgirdas talked his way onto the mound.

He admits the moment rattled him. But the lefty delivered a devastating breaking ball down and in to strike out Bonneville’s Randon Hostert, ending the threat and clinching a 7-3 victory for Timberline.

The win earned Timberline (19-10) its seventh state title and triggered the Wolves’ bench to storm the field at Borah High.

“I knew this was a state game, the last game of the season,” Vizgirdas said. “I went up to our coach before the game and I told him, ‘Anywhere you need me, I’ll be there. I’ll throw my arm out. I don’t really care. I’ve got a summer to heal.’”

Timberline turned to Vizgirdas after ace pitcher Jake Randall walked Tavyn Lords to load the bases with his 113th pitch. A pitch-count rule instituted last year states no pitcher can face a new batter after throwing 110 pitches.

Wolves coach Kirk Copeland said despite a year’s worth of rust, he never hesitated to hand Vizgirdas the ball with the season on the line.

“I had all kinds of confidence in him, and I don’t know why,” Copeland said. “It makes absolutely no sense. He is really passive, so I thought nothing is going to bother him. Afterward, he said, ‘I’m not going to lie, my heart was pounding so hard.’”

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Timberline senior Tomas Vizgirdas (15) celebrates with the Wolves' crowd after winning the 5A baseball state championship Saturday.

The wild finish capped a roller-coaster season for Timberline. The Wolves started the year picked second in the 5A SIC preseason coaches’ poll with eight returning starters from a team that reached the state championship a year ago. But Timberline scuffled to a 5-6 start before the Boise School District suspended head coach Jeff Reifman.

The Wolves lost their next two games to drop to 5-8 as the school district investigated Reifman. The school district declined to publicly reveal what it investigated, but Reifman resigned April 25 even though he said the district’s investigation found no wrongdoing.

The Wolves didn’t learn about his resignation until the Idaho Statesman reported it, setting off a silent protest on the team’s senior night. But in the midst of all the off-the-field drama, the Wolves closed the season winning 14 of their final 16 games to hang another banner.

Vizgirdas said Reifman’s departure split the team into camps, saying some players struggled to handle criticism from the coach. But with their season in danger of spiraling out of control, he said the Wolves came together instead of falling apart.

“It did divide the team. I’ll say it. It did immediately divide the team,” Vizgirdas said. “But once a few of us talked, the seniors, it almost brought us closer to play for him.”

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Timberline pitcher Jake Randall gives a pep talk to his replacement, Tomas Vizgirdas, with two outs and the bases loaded in bottom of the seventh inning Saturday. Randall had to leave the game because he reached his pitch count. Vizgirdas struck out the next batter to seal the Wolves' 7-3 victory over Bonneville and the 5A state title.

Timberline elevated Copeland from assistant coach to interim coach, and he said his job quickly morphed from manager into psychologist.

“They had to start looking at each other more,” Copeland said. “You had quite a few individuals, and you had some individual talent. I think they were already somewhat divided. And all the things that happened this year. There was more than one. There were three or four — it just kept dividing them until they finally had to rely on each other."

Bonneville (24-6) jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning Saturday. But the Wolves’ potent lineup, the highest-scoring in 5A, quickly went to work from there. Timberline scored in every inning but the third and sixth, finishing with 11 hits.

Junior shortstop Jonah Hultberg — who hadn’t played shortstop all season until state — led the way with a 3-for-3 day that included a triple. Connor Riddle drove in three runs, and No. 8 hitter Matt Chambers and No. 9 hitter Tanner Hartnett each added a pair of hits.

Randall clutched the state championship trophy after the game and received the celebratory Gatorade bath. But as he looked back on an emotional season, he said the Wolves didn’t win the title just for themselves.

“Throughout the season, we’ve been playing for a little more than just baseball,” Randall said. “We’ve been playing for each other. We’ve been playing for Coach Reif.

“To do this is pretty special.”

ROCKY WINS TROPHY: Junior Gabe Hughes roped two doubles and drove in seven runs as part of a 2-for-2 day to lead Rocky Mountain (24-5) to a 16-4, six-inning victory over Eagle in the consolation final.

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Middleton players rush the pitcher after defeating Minico in the 4A baseball state championship Saturday at Melaleuca Field in Idaho Falls. Drew Nash (Twin Falls) Times-News

4A: Middleton pulls off a stunner

Few expected Middleton to even make it to Saturday at the 4A state tournament.

But the sub-.500 Vikings completed their Cinderella run with a state championship, knocking of Minico 6-2 at Idaho Falls’ Melaleuca Field to win their second state championship in three years.

Middleton (15-16) started the season 0-6 and had to win two elimination games just to qualify for state. But the Vikings’ pitchers stepped up on the biggest stage. Junior Colt Stanley delivered Saturday, holding Minico to two runs while striking out three in a complete-game victory.

Darin Post and Hayden Smith also went the distance earlier in the tournament to lead Middleton to the championship. Minico took a 1-0 lead into the fourth inning before an RBI double from Post and Carson Smith gave Middleton a 3-1 lead. The Vikings added on in the sixth with Nathan Johnson’s two-run double and Hayden Smith’s RBI single.

Middleton followed a similar underdog route to win the 2016 state title, the program’s first since 1990.

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Middleton's Chad Stewart (9) celebrates a run with Darin Post (34) during the 4A state baseball championship against Minico on Saturday at Melaleuca Field in Idaho Falls.

3A: Homedale's title bid falls short

Homedale mounted a late rally, scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to break up a shutout. But the Trojans (23-5) ran out of gas, falling 4-2 to Bonners Ferry in the 3A state finals to finish just short of their first state title since 1999.

2A: Nampa Christian dynasty keeps rolling

Nampa Christian (19-8) 10-runned its way to a fourth straight state title, dispatching Grangeville 11-6 in six innings at Nampa Christian High. Trojans pitcher Luke Tuttle allowed one run on one hit while striking out six, and Tayler Black went 4-for-4 with three RBIs for Nampa Christian.