POCATELLO — Two innings away from elimination at the Single-A state tournament and with just two hits to that point, there was some tension in Marsh Valley’s dugout going to the bottom of the sixth Thursday at Halliwell Park.
But when the Eagles’ bats started to warm up, they got lava hot.
Payton Howe’s leadoff triple in the sixth — Marsh Valley’s third hit of the day — keyed a five-run rally before Howe went to the mound in the top of the seventh and shut down the Idaho Falls Tigers to finish a 5-2 win and send the Eagles to the final day of the tournament.
“Inside, everybody was pressing a little bit,” Marsh Valley coach Kent Howell said. “Usually we’re a really strong hitting team. To be at zero in the sixth, we were probably pressing a little bit, me included, so it was a big relief to get that first run.”
Howe and Idaho Falls starter Max Ritchie had a pitcher’s duel going early, with two Idaho Falls runs in the second — an inning keyed by a bad-hop ground ball that led to a Marsh Valley error — looking like they might be enough to win the game.
Ritchie, meanwhile, allowed just four baserunners through the first five innings.
But on his second pitch of the sixth, Howe ripped a triple to left-center, just out of the reach of a diving Idaho Falls center fielder.
Payton Campbell followed with a single to right to get the Eagles on the board, stole second, and moved to third on a groundball single by Tanner Branson.
Ninety feet away from tying the game, Marsh Valley almost faltered. Braxton Foster bunted foul twice before striking out looking, and Stanton Howell looked like he might go down the same way, bunting foul once and then taking a strike from new Idaho Falls pitcher Max Groberg.
But on an 0-2 count, Stanton Howell took a ball and then lifted the next pitch deep enough into center to score Campbell on a sacrifice fly.
“They really showed some maturity there,” Kent Howell said. “We had two opportunities to bunt to tie the game, and we didn’t get it done. Then we got that big fly ball to get him in, tie it, and that kind of gave them a little bit of relief.”
Game tied and pressure off, Marsh Valley really started hitting.
Karter Howell singled to left to score Branson with the go-ahead run, and Michael Belnap tripled to right to score Howell. Belnap later scored on a wild pitch before Idaho Falls got out of the inning.
“The boys made a little bit of an adjustment there,” Kent Howell said. “They were having trouble early in the game, swinging at bad pitches, watching good ones. ... But I felt their discipline tightened up and they made sure they were taking swings at good pitches. As simple as that sounds, I think that’s really what they did differently.”
Howe gave up a one-out single in the seventh, but got a groundout back to the mound to finish off his complete game and start the Marsh Valley celebration.
Howe threw 87 pitches, giving up seven hits but no walks and striking out five. He also led the Eagles with two hits.
After losing to Idaho Falls on Monday, the first day of the tournament, the Eagles have now won three straight elimination games to clinch their spot on the final day.
“It feels good, especially (because) the Tigers had our number,” Kent Howell said. “They beat us pretty bad earlier in the summer, and then they got us Monday night. It’s never fun being in the loser’s bracket ... but it’s been a character builder. I’ve enjoyed watching them.”
Marsh Valley will play either Wood River or the Pocatello Razorbacks at 4 p.m. Friday. If they win, they’ll play for the championship at 7 p.m.
MARSH VALLEY 5, IDAHO FALLS TIGERS A 2
Idaho Falls 020 000 0 — 2 7 1
Marsh Valley 000 005 x — 5 7 2
Idaho Falls — LP: Max Ritchie.
Marsh Valley — WP: Payton Howe. 3B: Howe, Michael Belnap.