IDAHO FALLS — When it comes tournament time, the saying goes, anything can happen.
The Middleton High School baseball team proved just that as it defeated the Minico Spartans 6-2 Saturday at Melaleuca Field for the 4A state championship, making it two years out of past three that Middleton defeated Minico for the blue trophy.
The Vikings entered the tournament with the third seed out of District 3 and a record of 12-16 (finishing 15-16), but they outscored their opponents 21-3 in the state tournament.
“They keep saying in the newspaper our record is bad,” Middleton head coach Pete Jones said at the trophy ceremony. “It doesn’t matter. We came here to play.”
Minico struck first on Saturday in a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the fourth inning on a chopper from Alan Ambriz that went less than 10 feet from the plate on a weird hop.
“I honestly don’t know what that was,” Ambriz said with a laugh after the game.
But the next three batters went down in order to kill the Minico scoring threat beyond one run, and Middleton followed in the bottom of the inning with a three-run rally on four hits, including a long double by Darin Post, to take a 3-1 lead.
“(Stranding three runners) was big,” Minico head coach Jared Price said. “That will help their team out a ton and give them confidence.”
Middleton struck again with a three-run sixth inning, in which Nate Johnson drove in two on a double to the wall. Kobe Matsen, who hadn’t allowed a runner through three innings, was pulled in favor of Tyler Giraud before Matsen could exit the sixth inning, but Price said he played well.
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“Kobe pitched a great game,” he said. “He maybe made a few mistakes and they capitalized on them. I don’t know if there’s one turning point in the game where it could have gone a different way. We just needed to execute offensively, and their pitcher kept us off balance.”
Minico only got one more run in support — an RBI double by Rylan Chandler that scored Carson Schow in the seventh — as Middleton’s Colt Stanley earned the win. Stanley pitched the complete game, allowing seven hits with both runs runs earned.
No batter for Minico recorded more than one hit in the game. Drake Miller went 1-for-3 with a run and a hit-by=pitch to lead the Spartans’ batting line.
Minico will graduate five seniors from this year’s second-place team, including Ambriz, who remembers how bad it felt the first time his squad lost to Middleton in the title game: a 5-2 loss in 2016.
“When we lost our sophomore year, we just used that every day to grind and get better,” he said. “Always looked forward to this game, we just came up short.”
Price told his team after the game he appreciated the work ethic his seniors, as well as the entire team, showed throughout their time in the program, and that there’s nothing to hang their heads about.
“As sophomores, they took second. As seniors, they took second,” Price said. “That’s a pretty good career for them.”
Some have signed to play college baseball, including Blaze Dennis (Columbia Basin College) and Ambriz (Spokane Falls Community College). Ambriz, in particular, got a late start to baseball, around his freshman year, and said he wouldn’t trade his experiences he’s had with the Spartans.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am today,” he said. “They made me a better man.”