IDAHO FALLS — One year after failing to escape the district tournament, Minico High School is playing for a state title in baseball.
The Spartans run-ruled Vallivue 15-5 in six innings to punch their ticket to the 4A title game against Middleton on Saturday. However, the final score masked what was a nailbiter in the middle innings.
Minico was able to jump out to a 6-0 lead in the first four innings, scoring four on wild pitches that bounced to the deep backstop at Melaleuca Field. The first two scored on the same wild pitch as Cobe Lehman took a second to realize the ball had passed him.
“We put a lot of emphasis on baserunning, and we’ve got fast guys,” Minico head coach Jared Price said. “They’re just aware and play the game the right way.”
Alan Ambriz was shutting down Vallivue batters through four innings, allowing no runs on three hits with six strikeouts. However, after a controversial call at first base for the third Minico out in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Falcons rallied for five runs in the fifth inning, all charged to Ambriz.
Tyler Giraud came in relief to get the final out of the fifth and maintain the Spartans’ lead at 6-5.
“I’ve been preaching to my guys all year long do your job,” Price said. “That’s what they did. Alan ran into a little trouble, we gave the ball to Tyler and he did his job. Then the offense comes through.”
That offense came through until it couldn’t any more, with the Spartans sending 12 batters to the plate to score nine runs — the final three scored on a bases-clearing double by Rylan Chandler.
“I was struggling the first times with my hitting,” Chandler said, “but I just knew I could do it and didn’t give up.”
Though it gave Minico a 10-run win, that final rally wasn’t about pouring it on Vallivue but stopping another chance for the Falcons to start a long rally like they did in the fifth inning.
“Momentum is crazy,” Price said, “and with a great team like Vallivue, giving them a little momentum is scary.”
The Spartans reached base 10 times in the game without having to swing the bat — seven walks, two hit-by-pitches and an uncontrolled strikeout.
Drake Miller finished the game with a perfect 2-for-2 batting line, scoring two runs and drawing a walk and a hit-by-pitch. Blaise Dennis was 2-for-2 with three runs, and Chandler and Carson Schow both scored twice.
The win put Minico in the state championship game against Middleton, a sub-.500 team on the season, but one that has outscored Twin Falls and Skyview by a combined 14 runs. The teams will play at 4 p.m. back at Melaleuca Field.
It’s also a far cry from last season, when the Spartans were unable to earn a state tournament bid out of the Great Basin Conference, bids taken by Twin Falls and Jerome. Now, the largely unchanged team — only one senior graduated last year — is playing for the biggest title in Idaho prep baseball.
“You can tell how much we’ve improved,” Chandler, a sophomore, said. “You can tell how much our seniors have done and how much they’ve worked hard for us.”
“Last year, we definitely underachieved,” Price said. “It was kind of a bitter taste in their mouth. That was kind of a driving force, and you’ve got to use that to the fullest.”