TWIN FALLS — For a few minutes, a major upset looked possible.
The College of Southern Idaho baseball team led Colorado Northwestern Community College 4-0 going into the eighth inning. After a Dylan Steen balk and a Dane Perry two-run home run, the score was 4-3 with one inning to play.
But CSI, the top team in the Scenic West Athletic Conference, didn’t buckle against the bottom dweller. The Golden Eagles (45-10) held on 4-3 in their first game of the Region 18 tournament Thursday afternoon at Skip Walker Field.
“To get that first one out of the way is huge for us,” CSI head coach Boomer Walker said.
CNCC had a 7-46 overall record going into Thursday and was 2-28 in the SWAC. CSI went 8-0 against the Spartans in the regular season, and most of those games were blowouts.
That context, however, didn’t dampen Thursday’s result to Walker.
“It’s tournament play. You never know what’s gonna happen,” he said. “The thing about Colorado, you can throw the record out the window when it comes to the tournament. They compete just as hard as anybody.”
The Golden Eagles, hosting their first Region 18 tournament since 1998, were quiet against CNCC starting pitcher Diego Cardoso for the first three innings. But they scored two runs in both the fourth and fifth innings to take a four-run lead, and they were in control until the eighth.
Other than a handful of walks, Steen mowed through the Spartans in the first seven innings. The balk and two-run homer blemished his final line but didn’t ruin it. The sophomore right-hander allowed three earned runs on five hits and five walks with seven strikeouts in eight innings completed.
“You know what you’re gonna get with Dylan,” Walker said. “He’s gonna throw strikes and compete.”
Jaden Jensen extinguished any hope for CNCC in the ninth inning. The Minico High School graduate retired all three batters he faced and struck out two of them.
“When our season started, I told Jaden, ‘You’re gonna pitch when we need to win a game,’” Walker said. “I don’t know if I’d call him our closer, or just a guy that we’re gonna bring in when we need to win a game.”
Colin Gordon led the Golden Eagles at the plate, finishing 3-for-4 with two doubles.
Steen, Jensen, Gordon and Walker also highlighted the Region 18 awards, announced on Thursday. Steen was named the pitcher of the year, Jensen was the reliever of the year and Walker received coach of the year honors.
Steen, Jensen, Gordon, Leatham, Mason Foltz, Shawn Grandmont and David Hudleson represented CSI on the Region 18 first team. Travis Bohall and Nolan Walker were selected to the second team.
“With this group, we don’t coach,” Boomer Walker said. “There’s no coaching involved because we have so much trust, and we just let them play."
CSI can advance to the Region 18 title game with a win on Friday against third-seeded College of Southern Nevada, which beat No. 2 Salt Lake CC 2-1 on Thursday. The Golden Eagles went 6-2 against CSN this season, with the two losses coming in the final two games of the regular season last week.
No matter how CSI finishes the tournament, this weekend has already been more successful than last year’s showing. CSI lost to SLCC 6-3 and CSN 15-2 at the 2017 Region 18 tournament to finish the season with a 20-27 overall record.
“We have guys that just want to win. Not worried about what school they’re going to or what their stats are or any of that,” Boomer Walker said. “I still don’t feel like we’re even close to the most talented team in the league, but our guys have really bought in to just doing whatever they can to win a game. We haven’t won pretty very often, but we’ve won a lot.”