POCATELLO — A molasses-slow start by the Pocatello Rebels belied what would ultimately go on to be a very competitive, back-and-forth opening contest against the Malad Dragons in Legion baseball action Saturday afternoon at Halliwell Park in Pocatello.
Conversely, the Dragon bats breathed plenty of fire early, but struggled to continue the level of production in later frames. In the end, the early offensive eruption by Malad was too much for the late-surging Rebels to overcome, and the Dragons notched a 12-8 victory.
Dillon Haslam put the Dragons on the board in the first inning, taking advantage of two Rebels errors to reach base and eventually score later in the frame on a passed ball. Dillon Evans, Hunter Atkinson, Peyton Briggs and Haslam combined to knock in five runs in the second inning to put the Dragons up 6-0.
The Rebels looked primed to fire back in their half of the second inning following a J.D. Gunderson single. Ryan Foltz then hit a screamer down the first base line that looked certain to move Gunderson to third, if not knock him home, until Atkinson stabbed it out of the air and then tagged first base for the double play.
Three more runs poured in for Malad in the 3rd, and the game looked a near certainty to be wrapped up in 5 innings of play — until the Rebels finally came alive.
With two outs in the bottom of the third, Austin Hansen singled to center, driving in Tyler Muhonen and Ian Hershey to break the Rebels’ slump and replace their goose egg in the runs section of the box score.
The Dragons immediately restored their nine-run cushion the next frame to go up 11-2. Once again, things looked to be over, but the Rebels staged another two-out rally in their half of the inning, scoring four runs on hits by Muhonen, Hershey and Jayce Vaughan to bring the score to 11-6.
The momentum carried over to the defensive side of the ball for the Rebels, as starting pitcher Maddox Moore was able to settle down in the fifth inning and retire the side on only six pitches. Hansen then scored on an Atkinson error in the bottom half of the frame to thin the Dragon lead to four, which was as close as the contest got. Each team tacked on one more run in the later innings and the Dragons held on for the 12-8 victory.
Grady Combs got the win for the Dragons, pitching 4 1/3 innings, striking out three and walking five.
“We started out strong [in the first game],” Dragons skipper Russ Wilson said. “We got ahead by 9 and then let it get away from us a little bit, but we managed to [hold on.]”
Wilson credited his tight-knit group who, like seemingly every Malad Legion baseball team, has a knack for staying competitive with teams from much bigger towns.
“These boys have been together a while,” Wilson said. “They all like each other, so there’s no friction. They’re a pleasure to coach.”
POCATELLO REBELS 14, MALAD 3 (6)
The Rebels salvaged a split in the second game, scoring in every inning to blow out Malad.
Hershey and Vaughan got things started at the top of the lineup, scoring three runs apiece for Pocatello, while Alex Winn threw a six-inning complete game, giving up seven hits and striking out two.
Haslam and Tanner Olsen drove in runs for Malad.
MALAD 12, POCATELLO REBELS 8
Malad 153 201 0 — 12 11 3
Pocatello 002 411 0 — 8 7 5
Malad — WP: Grady Combs. 2B: Dillon Evans. 3B: Isaiah Finlayson, Dillon Evans.
Pocatello — LP: Trem Tolman.
POCATELLO REBELS 14, MALAD 3 (6)
Malad 110 100 — 3 7 2
Pocatello 121 523 — 14 8 1
Malad — LP: Dillon Evans. 2B: Tanner Olsen.
Pocatello — WP: Alex Winn. 2B: Ethan Ellis.