With just one win in their first 10 games, the Lakeland Hawks didn’t appear a likely candidate to eventually win a regional title and advance to state.
But that’s exactly what happened.
The Hawks won 9 of their last 13, won the 4A Inland Empire League title and then the 4A Region 1 crown to qualify for state. Lakeland (10-11-2) opens state vs. Minico (24-3), last year’s state runner-up, today at noon PDT at Vallivue High in Caldwell.
“The way we started off, we’re so young, I only had one senior (shortstop Jaret Taylor),” Lakeland coach Jason Bradbury said. “I had to bring up two freshmen. I have two sophomores, I’ve got a good junior class, but without the senior leadership we struggled learning a little bit at the beginning of the season.
“If you’d have thought we’d been here (going to state) at the beginning of the season, I’d be hard-pressed to bet for that one.”
Bradbury, in his 16th season as head coach, pointed to an early April stretch where the Hawks “played great baseball” against 5A IEL foes Coeur d’Alene, Post Fall and Lake City.
“And we just rolled right into league, and got home-field advantage (for regionals), and that’s what it took,” he said.
Junior Justin Dennison (3-2, 1.92 ERA) is Lakeland’s No. 1 pitcher. Freshman lefthander Cameron Harris (3-0, 2.69 ERA) is the Hawks’ No. 2. And junior Ezra Grigg, who had been in concussion protocol since a snowboarding accident in January, returned last week and threw four solid innings in Lakeland’s win at Sandpoint on Wednesday in Game 2 of the best-of-3 championship series. Dennison, who started Game 1 on Monday, won the deciding game on Friday.
“The way our pitching staff is throwing right now, I like our chances with anybody,” Bradbury said. “I’ll take my starting pitching staff over anybody right now. They’re that good.”
Timberlake: While some were still stuck inside due to weather, Timberlake hit the road in an effort to get a little bit of a taste for what could happen if things went right during the regular season.
After a 1-5 start, including a 1-3 trip in a tournament in southern Idaho in late March, suddenly the weather warmed up.
Likewise, the Tigers did as well, finishing the regular season with 12-0 record in Intermountain League play.
“I think the big key for us was being able to go south and play in Payette,” third-year Timberlake coach Cameron Knigge said. “We were very lucky to get the chance to do that.”
Timberlake beat Payette, and lost to Weiser, Sugar-Salem and Parma in the two-day tournament. Both Weiser (12-12) and Sugar-Salem (17-11) advanced to state as well. Sugar-Salem opens with Priest River in tonight’s late game in Idaho Falls.
“While everyone else (up north) was in the snow and cold, we got a chance to be on the field,” Knigge said. “We played 23 game this year, and I didn’t know if we’d be on our field at all this year at one point. We’ve been inside a lot, but got the most out of our practices, whether they were inside or the school parking lot. We had our struggles defensively early, but we’ve improved from Day 1. I feel like we’ve got confidence in our defense right now.”
In previous years, the 3A tournament has been held at either Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Ore., or Fruitland High.
“It’s going to be a bit of a surprise for our kids,” said Knigge, whose team opens with Marsh Valley today at 9 a.m. PDT. “It’s a gorgeous field. We’ve played Marsh Valley the last two years at state and split those games. We’re looking forward to the rubber match with them.”
Junior Jack McDonald is 6-1 in seven starts on the mound and has 25 RBIs and 35 runs scored. Senior Kobe Harris has 31 RBIs and junior Louis Powell 29 RBIs for Timberlake.