FRUITLAND — Tears, disbelief and shock were on display at the 3A state baseball tournament but the agony of defeat was not from the expected dugout. After advancing to their first ever state baseball championship game, the Snake River Panthers stunned the mighty Fruitland Grizzlies on their home field, in front of a capacity crowd, by the final score of 8-4 for their first ever baseball state championship.
"It's been a real fun year. A real fun ride," Snake River head coach Rich Dunn said. "I said it before at districts and I'll say it again here at state now that it's over. Don't ever dangle a state championship in front of Snake River kids because they will get it. Don't ever dangle a championship in front of Snake River."
Playing as the home team on the scoreboard, Snake River wriggled free of a bases loaded situation in the top of the first inning and then pounced on the Grizzlies with a trio of runs in the home half of the opening frame to silence the Grizzly faithful with a 3-0 advantage.
Kade Harral got the inning going as he beat out a ground ball to second base. A walk by Nate Martin set the table for Wyatt Wray who was hitting in the clean up spot in the batting order. Wray did just as he was bought as he then took a pitch deep into the right centerfield gap for a 2 RBI double off of the wall.
"That at bat kind of started off a little rough. He came with a high fastball that I didn't quite get to but then he came back with a pitch that I could hit and I just stepped, swung through and did what my coaches bought me and it went a long ways," Wyatt Wray said. "Winning a state title is just incredible. I've been lucky enough to play with a lot of great teams in my time at Snake River and this just adds to it."
Wray advanced to third on a line drive single by Trey Albertson and then came racing home when Cole Rushton launched an RBI sacrifice fly to deep left field for the 3-0 lead.
Fruitland came back to regain the lead with 4 runs in the top of the third inning but true to form, Snake River responded to the threat with a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning to wrestle the lead back for good. Once again it was Harral who got the inning started with a lead off single. A sacrifice bunt by Martin pushed Harral to second and one batter later he came racing home when Trey Albertson swatted an RBI single past a diving Fruitland defender. Albertson eventually scored when the Fruitland third baseman airmailed the first baseman one batter later and the Panthers led 5-4.
"The last thing that we talked about was keeping the game close because we felt that if we could keep it close to the fifth, that they would give us some runs and really that's what happened," Coach Dunn said. "Listen. We knew that they were going to score. That team is legit. I don't care who they are playing in the state but they are as good as anyone in the state. We were excited to earn a right at taking a crack at them and today the ball bounced our way."
With the lead, starting pitcher Zane Stephenson continued to weave his way through the Fruitland line up as on three separate occasions he was facing a bases loaded situation and on three different occasions he rose to the occasion to get the final out, none bigger than the fifth inning however.
With the sacks full of Grizzlies, arguably the states best player was striding to the plate in Joey Martarano, who is rumored to be a high draft pick in June's Major League Baseball Draft. As he had done all day, Stephenson lived up to his nickname of Brahma though as he induced a ground ball to second base where Harral picked it clean and then flipped the ball to Rushton for the final out of the inning and preserving the 5-4 lead.
"We came in today wanting Zane to give us one, two good innings. Keller [Kade] has been ready to go since game one and we thought that we would need to use two pitchers to get through this game and so we warmed both of them up and Keller was ready to go if need be," Coach Dunn said. "Zane just kept getting that next big pitch when momentum was getting ready to tilt. Here is the thing with Zane though. If you don't knock him out early your not going to knock him out late. Zane put us on his back."
"I'm pumped," Zane Stephenson said. "You can't ask for very much more. A state championship against Fruitland at Fruitland. It rubs a bit of dirt in their eyes on their own home field."
Snake River added three more runs in the bottom of the sixth for some breathing room on the scoreboard as Harral, Martin and Wray each came across the plate with Wray, Rushton and Cole Hrabik each picking up RBI in the frame.
With the four run lead Stephenson, who had worked a complete game in the opening round, came back out to finish what he started. And that is just what he did as he struck out the side in the top of the seventh and then celebrated with his teammates in the middle of the infield.
"All my teammates have worked so hard this year I figured that I could muster up a little more energy to strike some guys out in that last inning," Stephenson said.
SNAKE RIVER 8, FRUITLAND 4
Fruitland 004 000 0 - 4 5 3
Snake River 302 003 x - 8 8 2
Fruitland hitters - Lane LaCrone 1-3 RBI, Joey Martarano 2-3 R, Jeremy Alvarado 1-3 R, Kody Graves 1-3 RBI. pitching - Jeremy Alvarado (L) 2 2/3IP 5R 4ER 4H 0K 2BB 2WP, Lane LaCrone 3 1/3IP 3R 2ER 4H 0K BB.
Snake River hitters - Bret Parkinson 1-4, Kade Harral 2-4 3R, Wyatt Wray 1-4 2B 2R 3RBI, Trey Albertson 2-3 RBI, Cole Rushton 0-1 2RBI, Cole Hrabik 1-3 RBI, Adrian Castaneda 1-3. pitching - Zane Stephenson (W) 7IP 4R 3ER 5H 9K 9BB HP.