Varsity Extra

Rocky Mountain beats Timberline, clinches title

Rocky Mountain center fielder Ryan Hansen couldn’t help himself.

The junior hauled in the final three outs Friday at Rocky Mountain High as the Grizzlies held on to edge Timberline 7-6, clinching Rocky Mountain’s first 5A Southern Idaho Conference regular season baseball title since 2012.

Hansen drifted to his right and camped under the final fly ball. Then he fired into an empty infield, one-hopping a throw to second base.

“I got a little too excited,” Hansen said with an ear-to-ear smile.

Hansen’s out capped a comeback that saw Rocky Mountain (22-0, 14-0 5A SIC) ward off the toughest test to its undefeated season thus far. The Grizzlies sprinted out to a 5-0 lead after four innings. Then Timberline (19-3, 12-2) erupted in the fifth for the first time in the home-and-home series, stringing together five straight hits in a six-run inning to take the lead.

But Rocky Mountain pounced on another Timberline mistake, an error on Hansen’s grounder to lead off the sixth inning. Seth Reisbeck brought Hansen home when he fought off a pitch into right field. And Rocky Mountain catcher JT Strickler followed with a fielder’s choice up the middle to plate Jackson Cluff and the conference-title-winning run.

“I think it says a lot about our character,” Strickler said. “We have a lot of tough guys on our team, mentally tough guys. They don’t let that stuff faze them. That was a good test for us, and I really like how our guys handled it.”

The league title ensures Rocky Mountain the top seed at the district tournament, which begins with a play-in round May 2 and the quarterfinals May 4 at Borah and Capital. The Grizzlies and Timberline have clinched byes into the quarterfinals, and Timberline coach Larry Price knows if not for a few mistakes, his team could have emerged with a win Thursday or Friday.

In the series, seven of Rocky Mountain’s 12 runs were unearned.

“I think both teams here know that nobody can go in feeling too comfortable if we meet again,” Price said. “Obviously, they beat us twice, so they might have a little bit of an edge with that. But we’re going to drive home tonight knowing that game could have been ours as well.”

Rocky Mountain can close out a perfect regular season with wins Monday and Tuesday against Nampa. Hansen said the undefeated record isn’t the club’s focus.

“Obviously, it’s big. Obviously, we really love it,’’ he said. “But it’s not always about being undefeated. We’re still taking it one pitch at a time, and that’s probably our biggest success so far.”