TWIN FALLS — The College of Southern Idaho baseball team spent a chunk of Sunday wondering if it would play the Region 18 title game. Some Golden Eagles didn’t want to play.
They left Skip Walker Field with a first-place trophy and one of the most dramatic wins in recent memory.
Hayden Leatham launched a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give CSI its only lead of Sunday’s game. The 7-5 win over Salt Lake Community College gave the Golden Eagles their first Region 18 championship since 1999.
“Our guys have been out here since 8:30 this morning working on the field,” CSI head coach Boomer Walker said after the game. “I don’t know how they did it. They just like to play and like to win. It’s fun.”
Travis Bohall (3-for-5) led off the bottom of the ninth inning with an infield single. SLCC’s Jesse Parker struck out the next two batters to bring up Leatham, CSI’s star freshman left fielder.
In 2-1 count, Leatham received a slider in the middle of the zone, and he swung away. Parker took a glance, took off his glove and walked toward the dugout as the ball sailed to center field.
SLCC’s Brady Brook leaped in vain, and the Golden Eagles streamed onto the field as the ball cleared the fence. Leatham jumped onto home plate and ended up on the bottom of a 30-man dogpile.
“It’s hard to express the feelings I have,” Leatham said. “There was definitely something bigger going on than just baseball that at-bat.”
Leatham was referring to Matt Bolingbroke, his friend and former teammate at Rexburg’s Madison High School. Bolingbroke died in July at the age of 18.
Leatham wore No. 21 at Madison, but he switched to No. 10 when he arrived at CSI this year. Bolingbroke was No. 10 at Madison.
“I always think about him when I’m playing,” Leatham said.
Sunday’s game was originally scheduled for Saturday, but heavy rain forced a postponement. The new plan was to play at noon on Sunday, but poor field conditions pushed first pitch to 3 p.m.
Thunderstorms hit Twin Falls at various points on Sunday afternoon, and rain was drenching the field as 3 p.m. approached. CSI’s players and staff members worked all morning and afternoon to get the field in playable shape, but they could only do so much. A puddle near second base formed and grew as steady rain drenched the field in the first couple innings of the game.
“It shouldn’t have been played,” Walker said. “I wasn’t very happy because of the fact that we only play nine guys. If somebody gets hurt, that affects our whole season. So I wasn’t excited about that, but I don’t get to make the decision.”
CSI was 2-0 at the Region 18 tournament going into Sunday. SLCC lost to the College of Southern Nevada in the semifinals but avenged the loss on Friday to reach the title game. The Bruins needed to beat CSI twice on Sunday to capture the championship, while the Golden Eagles needed to win once.
Both teams had already sealed spots in the upcoming Western District tournament going into Saturday. The Region 18 title game determined the tournament host. CSI would have been the host by default if the title game was cancelled.
Travis Bixby started Sunday’s game and allowed three runs in the third inning. A two-run homer off the bat of catcher Nick Seginowich gave the Bruins a 3-0 lead.
CSI scored runs in the bottom of the third and fourth, and Bixby pitched a flawless top of the fourth. Minico High School graduate Jaden Jensen replaced Bixby in the fifth and pitched three straight scoreless innings. But CSI’s lineup was quiet in the fifth, sixth and seventh, so the score remained 3-2 going into the top of the eighth.
Jensen’s only blemishes in his five innings came in the eighth. He allowed two runs, and the Golden Eagles trailed 5-2 with two innings to play.
“I knew my team had my back,” Jensen said. “I was just gonna go right back out there and put up another zero and help us stay in the game. I knew we’d come in and score another run.”
SLCC right-handed reliever Fisher Andersen began the bottom of the eighth by striking out Colin Gordon, the ninth Golden Eagle to strike out against Andersen in his four innings of work. But the pitch Andersen threw to strike out Gordon bounced away from the catcher, and Gordon reached first base on the wild pitch.
Leatham came up next and hit an infield single. It was the only hit Andersen had allowed up to that point, and Leatham (2-for-5) was the final batter he faced.
Left-hander Brayden Erickson came in and threw a wild pitch to advance both runners, but he struck out Nolan Walker a few pitches later. Shawn Grandmont came up next. In a 1-1 count, he got a fastball over the middle and drove it to center field, to nearly the same spot as Leatham’s home run the next inning. But it wasn’t a no-doubter. Brook tried to rob the homer, and Boomer Walker thought he did.
He didn’t, and the game was tied for the first time since 0-0 in the second inning.
Twenty minutes after Grandmont’s blast, CSI was celebrating its first Region 18 title this century.
Leatham was named the Scenic West Athletic Conference player of the year on Thursday, and he earned Region 18 tournament MVP honors following his Mother’s Day heroics.
“Those are things that you dream about,” he said. “I’m thankful to be here.”
CSI (47-10) will get three days off before it returns to Skip Walker Field (named after Boomer’s father) for the four-team district tournament. The Golden Eagles’ road to the NJCAA Division I World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., will begin against Arizona Western at 7 p.m. on Thursday. SLCC (35-16) and Trinidad State will play at 3 p.m. the same day.
“I want to go to the World Series,” Boomer Walker said. “I grew up going to that place nine times when my dad was the coach here, and it’s the reason why I’ve always stayed in junior college baseball. I’d like to get the opportunity to coach a team that plays in Grand Junction.”