SINGLE-A STATE TOURNAMENT
When: July 30-August 3
Where: Burley High School
A week after winning their first district championship, the rebooted Malad Dragons Legion team will take another step into the unknown Tuesday when they play their first game at the Single-A state tournament in Burley.
The Dragons will be making their first appearance at the state tournament since the program was revived three years ago, and they’ll enter as the No. 1 seed out of Area C after beating the Pocatello Razorbacks 8-3 for the district crown on July 24.
Malad’s first game will be against the Treasure Valley Stars (Fruitland), the No. 3 seed from Area B, at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
“I think the big difference here is the unknown,” Malad coach Russ Wilson said. “It’s going to be an experience for the boys, that’s for sure. … We went to district last year, but we were eliminated fairly early, and then this year we were able to win the district tournament. This is our first time at state, so we’re learning. There’s a lot to learn.”
A possible rematch with Pocatello could also be in the cards, as the Razorbacks are slotted into the bracket as the No. 2 seed out of Area C.
They’ll open their tournament by taking on Moscow, the No. 1 seed from Area A, at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“Everyone knows it’s higher stakes, everyone knows what we’re playing for,” Razorbacks coach Jason Jones said. “We set goals at the beginning of the year, and this was it, to get into the state tournament and go win it. … We just clean things up and keep the repetitions going, but I think we know that the stakes are bigger and the focus has to be there.”
According to the coaches, the two teams are something close to diametric opposites in their styles of play.
Malad blitzed through the district tournament with pitching and defense, giving up just seven runs total over the four games.
That’s impressive at any level, but Wilson did admit that he’d like to see a little more impact offense from the Dragons’ lineup.
“I would like to see them get their offense going a little stronger than what it has been,” Wilson said. “They’re hitting the ball consistently, but we get a lot of pop flies short into the outfield. We get some long flies, but not consistently. A lot of pop-ups. We need to see if somehow we can get some more quality line drives.”
The Razorbacks, on the other hand, win with a powerful offense and just enough contributions from their pitching and defense.
Three Razorbacks are hitting over .400 on the season, and three more are over .350.
“We’re a solid hitting ballclub,” Jones said. “What’s been surprising this year … is our pitching. We hate to rely on it as much as we have lately, but you rely on it in those tough games because you’re playing tougher teams. So our hitting has been top-notch all year, our starting pitching has been great, and when we back them up with defense, we’re a pretty solid team.”
The state tournament, a true double-elimination bracket with eight teams, will run over five days next week, with a champion being crowned on Saturday — and both the newcomers from Malad and the mainstays from Pocatello are hoping that they’ll be the last ones left standing.
“We want to go on and compete and play well and have fun and make it a lifelong experience for these kids,” Jones said. “That’s what we’ll do, and if we can play good baseball and the cards fall right and we get a couple calls and a couple bounces go your way, if things go right, you can go win it.”