It was a strange sight to see the Grizzlies in purple for the first time in the state tournament. Rocky lost the coin toss and Timberline took over the third base side as the home team for the championship game. It would be interesting to see how Rocky responded to being the visitor and not have last-ups…Left fielder Nick Romano hit a one-out single and was able to advance to second on an overthrow of a pick-off attempt by Timberline, but could not advance any further. The talk amongst the Timberline faithful was how Rocky burned their top two pitchers and now the Wolves had a chance against whoever it was the Grizzlies would put on the mound, as the new pitching rules made things interesting for all the teams. Enter one Mr. Brooks Juhasz, the senior pitcher who went 5-1 for the season with a 1.62 era. Three up and three down for the Wolves and we moved into the second inning with a scoreless game.
First baseman Nolan Walker received a walk to start off the second inning, and advanced to second on a two-out single by right fielder Payton Lewis. Third baseman Danny Burns got plunked to load the bases and Timberline immediately moved on to their second pitcher of the game, who was able to induce a pop-up to get out of the inning unscathed. And all Juhasz did on the mound was get another 1-2-3 inning to quickly bring Rocky back up to the plate.
Back to back walks by Romano and catcher Kaden Hollow made the Timberline crowd a little antsy, but when designated hitter Kase Ogata hit a double that scored Romano and put runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs you could sense momentum was on the first base side with the Grizzlies. Brandon Huck had replaced Hollow as a courtesy runner, and he scored on a wild pitch that also saw Ogata move up a base to third. Timberline started warming up the next pitcher while Walker singled but Ogata held up at third. A double play scored Ogata and the Grizzlies took a 3-0 lead into the bottom half of the inning. But momentum, they say, is a fickle beast…
A lead-off single proved the Wolves were not just going to lay down and let Rocky walk off with the state championship. A fielder’s choice provided the first out of the inning and kept a runner on first base. A sacrifice bunt and an error put runners on 1st and second, and the next batter hit a double to clear the bases, and the batter went to third on the throw. Another error brought the runner from third across the plate and just like that the score was tied and the Grizzlies were left wondering what happened while a deafening roar came from the third base side. Back to back singles put runners on the corners, and things looked bleak for the Rocky faithful. A bunt attempt went awry as it popped up to Juhasz on the mound as the runner from third streaked by, and Juhasz calmly made the catch and threw it to third to complete the double play and end the inning with the score knotted at 3’s.
It was still loud on the third base side with a lot of celebrating going on, but the game was not yet halfway over. There was still much baseball to be played and to prove it Lewis led off the inning by wearing one and sprinted to first base, extolling the dugout to get excited and get back in the game. A sacrifice bunt by Burns turned into runners on the corners as the throw went streaking by the first baseman. Center fielder Ryan Hansen bunted for a single that scored Lewis and put Burns on second. A one-out walk to Kaden Hollow loaded the bases, and a fielder’s choice scored Burns, putting runners at the corners again but now there were two outs. Walker came through with a double to score Hansen and move Ogata to third. Not to be outdone, shortstop Ty Hollow hit a stand-up double of his own to score both Ogata and Walker. A pitching change by the Wolves resulted in a wild pitch that put Hollow on third, and a ground out ended the inning but not before Rocky batted around and scored 5 back-breaking runs, completely silencing the home crowd with the score now 8-3 in favor of Rocky.
Juhasz induced a pop-up to the first batter, but back to back walks woke the crowd back up. A fielder’s choice provided the second out and runners on 1st and 3rd, but another walk loaded the bases for Timberline. A shot between first and second looked to score 2 runs when out of nowhere Moorhouse dove for the ball and threw to first from his knees to get the third out and deny the Wolves any runs in the inning – still 8-3 Rocky. An error put Burns on first with one out, and a ground out moved him to second but he would remain there as the Wolves got out of the inning without any Rocky runs. The bottom of the 5th saw a one-out double for the Wolves, but a fly ball to right and a strike-out kept Timberline away from the plate and the score stayed 8-3.
Kaden Hollow started the 6th inning with a walk, Huck took over for him and as he tried to steal second the batter was called out for offensive interference and he had to go back to first. A walk to Walker put runners on first and second with one out and Ty Hollow hit another stand-up double to score Huck and put Walker on third. A sacrifice fly by Moorhouse scored Walker and the Grizzlies padded their lead, 10-3.
Timberline started the bottom of the 6th with three singles in a row, scoring one run and making a statement that they were not ready to concede the game. A strike-out gave the Wolves their first out of the inning with runners on second and third and Matt Hansen came in to relieve Juhasz, who received a thunderous ovation from both sides of the stands for his stellar pitching performance in this championship game. No longer were people wondering how Rocky would survive without their dynamic duo pitchers in this tournament. A strike-out for Hansen’s first batter was quickly followed by a fly ball to left and the inning ended with Rocky still on top 10-4.
Romano hit a 2-out double and scored on a double by Kaden Hollow. Ogata was beaned and replaced by Ethan Buchanan on first base, but the inning ended with one run scored, bringing the score to 11-4 for Timberline’s last chance at the plate. The first batter flew out to right field and the Rocky faithful started getting louder, two outs away from claiming the championship. A walk to the next batter did not matter with a 7-run lead, and still the fans grew louder. A fly ball to left field provided the second out of the inning and the Grizzly fans were on their feet, the Rocky dugout getting ready to pounce onto the field. A strike looking was followed by a ball, the roar began to build. A strike swinging and another ball. With the count 2-2 Hansen nibbled the corner and the ump had no choice but to call the batter out and pandemonium broke out on the Rocky side as fans jumped, high-fiving and hugging each other while many tears were shed. The Rocky players rushed the field with all of the joy of the t-ballers they all used to be. Baseball is still and always will be a kids game; it was very gratifying to watch them celebrate, dogpiling each other, hugging each other and the coaches, all with the enthusiasm of the little kid in all of us who started out playing catch with their parents in the back yard.
The Grizzlies were led at the plate by Nolan Walker (2-3, double, 1 rbi); Ty Hollow (2-4, 2 doubles, 3 rbi’s); Kaden Hollow (1-2, double, rbi) and Nick Romano (2-4, double). On the mound Brooks Juhasz pitched 5-1/3 innings, allowing 4 runs (3 earned), 8 hits, 3 walks and 2 strike-outs. Matt Hansen pitched 1-2/3 scoreless innings with no hits, 1 walk and 2 strike-outs.
Much was said about Timberline’s improbable run to the championship, having been picked to finish the season in 6th place while Rocky was picked first. But there is something to be said about playing with the pressure and expectations of being the top seed, knowing every team has you in their sights. This pressure only increases as the season progresses and heightens as the post-season arrives. It is a true testament to the character of the players and their coaches that Rocky never cracked under that pressure. With each game that they won in districts and state, there was no celebrating; they simply expected to win. There was but one goal – a state championship, and that goal has been realized – the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies are the 2017 Idaho 5A State Champions – Go Grizzlies!