By PAUL LAMBERT
FRUITLAND — Had they known their Thursday was going to end up this way, the Shelley Russets and Teton Redskins would have met at Melaleuca Field for today’s second-round state playoff game.
Shelley lost its opener to Marsh Valley 5-4, and Teton fell 7-3 to host Fruitland, setting up the fourth and final installment of the Russets vs. Redskins, scheduled for today at Fruitland High School.
“It’s kind of weird to come 400 miles to play one of your league foes,” Teton coach David Ross said. “We could have just met them in Idaho Falls or something.”
Shelley coach Trent Armstrong feels the same way, moreso, even. Considering he had won the season series with Teton 2-1, he didn’t expect to be staring down the Redskins for a fourth time in a state loser-out game.
“It’s either let Teton have redemption or go out on a good note,” Armstrong said. “We can still take home some hardware, and though it’s not the one everyone dreams of, it still tastes pretty good.”
The two teams will meet today at Fruitland with first pitch scheduled for 1 p.m., and just three interstate miles from the Oregon border.
Marsh Valley 5, Shelley 4
Of the 12 outs recorded by Shelley ace starting pitcher Kaden Schmitt, 10 came by strikeout.
Unfortunately for the fans of Shelley baseball, however, the hard-throwing senior left the game with a torn lateral muscle on his right side after giving up three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Schmitt struck out the final two Marsh Valley batters he faced, despite struggling to catch his breath.
“He struck out his last two to get out of it, and he was done,” Armstrong said. “He came out and said, ‘coach, I can’t breathe. I can’t get a feel for anything.’ ”
At the time the Russets were in a 3-1 hole, struggling to get runners all the way back around to home plate. By the end of the game, Shelley had stranded 12 baserunners — including the tying and winning runs in scoring position in the top of the seventh.
After scoring two and leaving the bases loaded in the sixth, Shelley put runners on second and third with one out in the seventh, trailing 5-4.
Leadoff batter Braxton Smith then crushed a ball down the first-base line, right into the glove of the Marsh Valley first baseman.
“At the end of the year here we’ve won a lot of close games, and today we weren’t able to get the hits when we needed them,” Armstrong said. “We needed that base hit, and just couldn’t find it.”
Josh Peterson and Blake Butler each had a pair of hits for the Russets (14-7).
Fruitland 7, Teton 3
Before senior Jacob Abbott lined a ball over the second base bag in the sixth inning, the Teton Redskins were without a hit against Fruitland ace Jeremy Alvarado.
Though Abbott didn’t know his team was being no-hit, his coach certainly did.
“I’m sure somebody did, but I didn’t know,” Abbott said. “I was too excited and nervous to worry about that stuff.”
Teton (12-10) coach David Ross knew, but in the true spirit of baseball superstition, he wasn’t talking about it.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘This is goofy.’ We aren’t the type of team that gets no-hit,” Ross said. “I was glad to see him line that over the bag and get that monkey off our back.”
Three batters later, Teton senior Kolton Bleggi got the shutout stink off the Redskins’ backs with an RBI double into the right center-field gap.
In all, Teton scored three runs in the inning to chase Alvarado and save some face entering today’s game against Mountain Rivers Conference rival Shelley.
“We’ve got eight seniors on this team and they don’t want to go two-and-out,” Ross said. “We’ve got to play for them a little bit and we want to play Saturday. If we win tomorrow, we will do that.”
Abbott was a little more direct in his assessment of the final weekend of his high school baseball career.
“We’re going to hold our heads high, and we’re going to bring home that consolation championship,” he said. “We’ve come too far to give up now.”