PRESTON – The Firth Cougars expected to be in the state baseball tournament.
They expected to win their district tournament and earn their berth and the trip to Orofino in the good old-fashioned way, but when the Challis-Mackay Riverdogs changed their plans, they made the trip to Preston for a play-in game with the Bear Lake Bears, basically another win or go home type of game for both teams.
Firth sent Grayson Nelson to the mound and the tall lefty set the Bears down in order in the first inning, and when the Cougars were able to score three times in the bottom half of the inning, coach Scott Adams did what any good coach would do, especially when you have the type of pitching that Firh has — he turned the game over to the pitching staff and they responded the way that you would think that they should. They held the Bears at bay and basically rode that early three spot to the win by a final score of 4-2.
The Cougars didn’t need much offense on the afternoon, because Nelson and his reliever, Ben Park, kept the Bears off the base paths and subsequently from crossing the plate.
Nelson had nine first-pitch strikes and a strikeout, relying on the defense behind him to keep the Bears in their dugout and when Park came in, he picked up right where Nelson left off. Park threw first-pitch strikes to seven of the 10 batters he would face, striking out two, and he was prominent at the plate for the Cougars, as he drove in a run early on. Between him and Chris Ivie, they drove in three of the Cougars’ four runs on the day.
The Cougars were not as offensive-minded as they have been in recent games, as they were only able to get four hits on the day, but with pitching at the forefront, they didn’t need any more than what they got. The pitching held the Bears to only six hits and the defense took over, only allowing a single error on the afternoon.
The Cougars advance to the state tournament which begins on Thursday in Orofino where they will play Grangeville in the 3 p.m. game in the bottom half of the bracket.
Grangeville will be the representative of District 1/2 as the winner of that tournament and will bring a 13-8 record to the tournament. The Cougars sport a 20-4 mark on the year following the win over Bear Lake. The winner of that first game will take on the winner of the Melba vs. Challis-Mackay contest from earlier in the day. Melba carries a 19-5 record coming into the state tournament and Challis-Mackay has a record of 18-3 on the year.
The tournament will begin on Thursday and the championship game is slated for Saturday afternoon.