The threat slowly crept forward, but ultimately did not get the best of the Skyview Hawks.
That could go for the distant lightning strikes and ominous clouds that could have made Skyview wait to clinch a spot in the 4A state baseball semifinals — the more immediate threat was the Preston Indians.
Preston nearly erased an early 5-0 lead and had runners on second and third base with one out trailing 6-5 in the top of the seventh Thursday at Bishop Kelly High. But reliever Jacob Hibbard forced two infield popups to finish off the challengers from southeast Idaho. Skyview was the lone District Three winner Thursday, with Caldwell and Bishop Kelly relegated to the consolation bracket, on the wrong side of similarly tight affairs.
The Hawks will face defending champion Twin Falls at 7 p.m. Friday at Bishop Kelly for a berth into the championship. Moscow and Blackfoot play at 4 p.m. for the other spot.
“We’re very excited, we know Twin’s a great team, so we’ve got to come out and play hard, play our best game,” said Skyview pitcher Sage Diehm, who will start Friday. “It’s what I’ve been working for, what we’ve been working for. We’re ready to go.”
SKYVIEW 6, PRESTON 5
In their 10-game winning streak entering state, the Hawks allowed more than three runs in a game just once, and winning their last nine by at least five runs. Thursday’s game was unlike any the team had in a month. The Indians got a two-run home run from Derek Fryar in the fourth inning to get on the board, then added two more runs in the sixth and got a Fryar RBI single to cut the lead to one in the seventh.
“I was a little concerned how we’d do in pressure situations, because we haven’t had a lot of them lately — and we didn’t perform real well,” Skyview coach Ryan Bobo said.
Bobo said he “went against everything I’ve thought” in waiting to use his University of North Carolina-bound ace, Diehm, until later in the tournament, knowing a loss meant no chance for a title. But he said this year is different, with multiple reliable starters in addition to Diehm, including senior Mitch Hensley. In 6 1-3 innings, Hensley struck out five and walked three, leaving with a 6-4 lead.
“Mitch threw a great game ... you don’t play to win one game, you’re playing to win the tournament, and whatever gives you the best chance, we felt like that’s what did for us,” Bobo said.
Though Diehm didn’t contribute to the win with his arm, his bat was the key for Skyview’s offense. He went 3-for-3, driving in three runs, including a two-RBI triple with two outs in the third inning to get the Hawks their 5-0 lead. His RBI single in the fifth proved to be a much-needed insurance run.
“We put some innings together, hitting-wise, but in the dugout, we were just flat, everyone was quiet, there wasn’t much enthusiasm, but we’re going to pick it up and come out firing (Friday),” Diehm said. “... I just like doing whatever I can to help the team win.”
TWIN FALLS 2, CALDWELL 0
Dominant the first six innings, Kaleb Jones got out of trouble in crafty fashion to get the shutout for the Bruins.
Jones allowed just one base runner before the seventh inning, when he yielded three straight one-out singles to load the bases. A force out at home put the defending state champs one out from the semifinals. They got it when Jones caught Jordan Britton taking a long lead off second, getting the opposing pitcher out at third in a rundown to end it.
“That’s something we work on a lot,” Jones said. “Teams, in that situation, sometimes you don’t see the same focus on the bases when they have a man in front of him ... it worked out perfectly. That’s exactly why we work on it.”
To get a lead it never had to relinquish, the Bruins got it on one swing, a leadoff home run from Braden Stutzman to start the bottom of the first inning. Other than that, Britton was excellent for Caldwell (19-9), not allowing a hit after the second inning. In fact, the Cougars outhit the Bruins, 4-3.
“He honestly didn’t have the great game that JB normally has, but look what he did ... he only had one real mistake, came back from it, bounced back, but we just couldn’t help him out,” Caldwell coach Dan Richardson said. “That’s been our struggle, coming up with the big hit.”
Skylar Holcomb drove in the other run for the Bruins, while Tanner Meeks had a pair of hits for Caldwell, making its first state appearance since 2007.
“It hurts, it really does ... but it’s hard to win a ball game when you go into the seventh inning with only one hit -- struggled to make adjustments at the plate, and finally (did) but it was a little too late,” Richardson said.
MOSCOW 4, BISHOP KELLY 3 (8)
Moscow didn’t need fence-clearing blasts to win Thursday. In fact, the biggest hit went just a few feet before it first hit the ground.
With runners on second and third and no outs in the eighth inning, the Bears’ Glenn Gosse belted a chopper just in front of home plate, but the sophomore’s bounce was mighty -- dropping between Bishop Kelly’s third baseman and shortstop, sending Theo Howard in for the winning run.
“We’ve been stressing to them that a pitch with no outs in the first inning is the same as one when it’s on the line, and didn’t put too much pressure on ourselves ... they’re buying into it, though of course I would’ve loved it to end sooner, it got a little stressful,” Moscow coach Lance Abendroth said.
The Bears had those sorts of hits all day, racking up 15 on Knights starter Tyler Oldenberg (who struck out 10 batters), dropping them just out of reach from Bishop Kelly gloves time and again. Bishop Kelly had six hits in the loss.
“That’s just baseball -- late in the game, some of our hits just found gloves, and they did a good job hitting it where we couldn’t get it,” Bishop Kelly coach Derek McCormick said. “That’s why baseball sucks sometimes. That last hit was just kind of the game in a nutshell.”
Bishop Kelly was shut out by Moscow starter Danny Freiburger until the seventh, when the Knights got on Howard, tying it on an RJ Syverson two-RBI single. They took the lead when Syverson scored on a throwing error by catcher Alec Martin when he tried to pick off pinch runner Talon Howie at first. But the Bears forced extra innings on a Chad Robertson single with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
“I wasn’t surprised about our comeback -- we’ve battled all year,” Abendroth said. “We have a young team, but we’re talented. Young athletes sometimes struggle putting teams away. We’ve worked on that, and today was a perfect example of that belief paying off.”
Robertson and Cooper Larson had three hits apiece for the Bears, while Steve Zorich had two hits for the Knights.
BLACKFOOT 4, MINICO 3
The Broncos and Spartans notched two first-inning runs apiece, but tough pitching kept it tied until Blackfoot senior Dylan Mansanarez drove in two runs with a two-out single in the bottom of the fifth.
“Everyone dreams to be in that situation,” Mansanarez said. “I tried not to think too much, just slap the ball somewhere, and it went through.”
Minico got a leadoff double from pitcher Danny Freiburger to start the seventh, and he was driven in by a Tanner Harper single, but Taylor Pearson shut the door for the save. Blackfoot (20-5) starter Andrew Hatch struck out 10 in six innings’ work. Freiburger scattered five hits, yielding two earned runs.