POCATELLO – Oh, it was so close. So, so close.
It wasn’t that Blackfoot needed reclamation for its three-week-old season, it’s that futility needs to be broken. Streaks need to be snapped. Blackfoot’s Single-A American Legion team entered Friday’s game against Malad having played 11 games this season. Not one had ended with smiles.
But there were smiles aplenty from the black and green squad on Friday. A team that had scored just 21 runs in its first 11 games of the season plated 10 in its 12th game alone. In Blackfoot’s five-run sixth, Malad fumbled a pair of routine force outs at second base that kept the inning alive and ballooned the Broncos’ lead to 10-4 entering the final frame.
At one point in that stretch, a Blackfoot parent let out a chuckle, as if to acknowledge the relief that hardship on the diamond finally wasn’t going against the Broncos. “We need all the help we can get,” he said in what became a 11-10 Malad victory during the quarterfinals of the Pocatello Wood Bat Classic.
Early on, though, Blackfoot didn’t need much assistance. The Broncos' bats were hotter than they had been all season. Blackfoot notched 13 hits, including three from Lucas Hill and a pair each from Johnathon Morgan, Tegan Capson, Alex Nawrocki and Peyton Monson. Every player who stepped to the plate for Blackfoot on Friday reached first base at least once.
“That’s the best we’ve done all year (hitting),” Blackfoot coach Neal Callister said. “I’m proud of these kids. They brought it today.”
Indeed, and it all seemed to be leading to that elusive first victory. Then the bottom of the sixth happened, and whatever bad voodoo has been plaguing the Broncos this season reappeared.
Because of time constraints, the bottom of the sixth was supposed to be the final frame. Actually, it seemed sure to be the final frame. Blackfoot was up 10-4 and had held a talented Malad lineup at bay all day. “If they’re going to make a comeback, they better do it quick,” said umpire Liam Pope, looking at his watch and realizing the two-hour mark was quickly approaching.
Before the inning, Malad coach Garen Atkinson had a simple message: “I told them if they want to play tomorrow, they better get some hits … We came and kind of overlooked these guys. They came out scoring. We had some of our good pitchers pitching, but they just couldn’t get in the groove.”
To their credit, the Dragons attacked the sixth inning like a rodeo bull out of the gates. Tyler Wilson was hit by a pitch. Jaden Ward singled to right. Grady Combs walked. Gaiden Combs knocked in two with a hard ground ball into the outfield. On and on and on. Each of the next four batters brought in a run, knotting the score at 10 with only one out. To escape the inning, right-hander Peyton Monson struck out Wilson and, with runners on second and third, got Ward to ground out.
“That stings when you’re just beating yourself,” Callister said. “That’s tough.”
Things became even more painful in the seventh. Blackfoot had the bases loaded with one out and a deep fly ball into center was the perfect tag-up opportunity. But instead of tagging, the runner bolted on the crack of the bat and was thrown out at third by a mile. Inning over.
Malad, unsurprisingly, capitalized minutes later.
With runners on the corners and two outs, Grady Combs decided to end the game with wit. Taking his lead off first, Combs sauntered to the middle of the base paths and dared Monson to try and pick him off. Monson stepped off the mound and fired towards second base. His throw, though, hit leather then fell to the dirt. Combs retreated to first as the winning run crossed the plate.
“If they’re going to go for the pickoff there, he’s scoring,” Atkinson said. “That’s little-league ball."
Blackfoot (0-12) will host Upper Valley in a doubleheader on Thursday.
Malad will play Evanston (WY) Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at Hawthorne Field in the Wood Bat Classic silver bracket semifinals.
MALAD 11, BLACKFOOT 10
Blackfoot 041 005 0 — 10 13 2
Malad 002 116 1 — 11 12 1
Blackfoot — LP: Peyton Monson.
Malad — WP: Stetson Higley. 2B: Grady Combs.