CALDWELL — There isn’t always magic. There isn’t always a wild rally, the type players grow up and tell their kids about. There isn’t always some turn of events that borders on preposterous, not even at the state tournament.
Sometimes, you get what Highland got on Thursday evening: A 3-0 loss. The Rams exited the winner’s side of this 5A state tournament because they mustered just one hit against Timberline starter Kailer Saunders, who bamboozled and perplexed and flummoxed Highland until he racked up six strikeouts and there was nothing left to do except wonder.
Why did the Rams look so lost at the plate?
“You’ve gotta give credit to their pitcher,” Highland coach Christian Colonel said. “He kept us off-balance. He attacked our hitters. We did not get the timely hits that we needed.”
That’s the part that will stick with Highland, at least until the team returns to action at 12:30 p.m. Friday to play Borah. The Rams just couldn’t come through when they needed to. They may have only produced one hit, a second-inning single courtesy of center fielder Drew Hymas, but they found chances to score.
For example: In the second frame, Hymas threaded a two-out single, stole second base and took third on an error. Except Karson Farnsworth followed with a pop out, ending the inning. In the next inning, Tanner Kitchin led off with a walk and Carson Choules bunted him over to second. Runner in scoring position with one out. The next two at-bats went like this: groundout, groundout. Inning over.
Even in the next inning, catcher Aaron Kearns reached on an error with one out. But designated hitter TJ Edginton grounded out to the shortstop and Hymas whiffed for strike three. For Highland, the final three frames inspired little confidence. Saunders struck out the side in the fifth. He worked around a two-out walk in the sixth. He supplied a 1-2-3 inning in the seventh.
“That’s been our kryptonite the last few weeks,” Colonel said. “We haven’t gotten those timely hits with runners in scoring position. Hopefully, tomorrow we can adjust a little bit.”
The good news for Highland: The team won’t have to face Saunders in Friday’s game. The bad news: That’s because he silenced their bats. On an efficient 95 pitches, Saunders sequenced his fastball, slider and changeup in ways that the Rams never quite found answers for. Every time it felt like Highland had some sort of rally going, something encouraging, it vanished faster than those brown weasels in whack-a-mole. “He’s a weathered pitcher, and he knows what he’s doing out there,” Colonel said. “He got us out of our approach.”
Even so, they had an opportunity to make up the deficit because starter Colton Sneddon provided it. The Rams’ senior hurler pitched all seven innings, wearing out his arm with 112 pitches, which was enough to keep the Wolves scoreless through three innings. It wasn’t enough to prevent their fourth-inning deluge, which resulted in three runs — the first on a bases-loaded walk — and handed Highland the final deficit.
It’s only worth revisiting, though, because it was the only blight on Sneddon’s outing. He fanned five, walked three and worked around six hits. He completed his Highland career with a valiant effort.
“It’s pretty sad, but what can you do?” Sneddon said. “I still have summer ball, and I hope to move on to college ball.”
Maybe the Rams would feel a little better if this was an outlier. It was not. This was the third straight loss for Highland, which secured a state berth last week by topping Madison in a 5A District 5/6 tournament series, only to fall to Idaho Falls in the championship series, taking 5-2 and 8-3 setbacks.
But the bracket sends two teams to state, which is why the Rams found themselves here in Caldwell, hopeful the College of Idaho’s Wolfe Field would be the place where they secured what has eluded them in every year of Colonel’s tenure: a state championship.
That will have to wait another spin around the sun.