The Idaho Falls baseball team started the day with a pitching gem by Merit Jones, then had to crank up the drama to hold off Highland in the 5A District 5-6 tournament nightcap.

The Tigers defeated the Rams 4-0 and 8-7 to win the best-of-3 series on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field and earn the district’s top seed for the 5A state tournament beginning May 20 at the College of Idaho in Caldwell.

The last time Idaho Falls was in the postseason, the Tigers lost to rival Bonneville in the 2019 4A state title game. A missed high school season due to COVID-19 hasn’t slowed the Tigers in their march for another title shot, even with the jump to 5A.

“We just love to compete and we have a lot of fun,” Jones said. “But at the end of the day we’re a team that’s going to grind it out.”

The junior was sharp in the opener, holding the Rams to four hits on the way to the complete-game shutout.

The Tigers only had six hits, but they padded a 1-0 lead in the fourth with a fielder’s choice by Beaux Anderson and an RBI single by Nate Rose.

That was enough for Jones, who struck out nine. Highland threatened in the sixth with a leadoff double, but Jones retired the next three hitters to end the inning.

“I just try to be myself and pitch how I pitch,” said Jones, who struck out 10 and tossed a complete game against Highland during the regular season.

Game 2 was a different story as Idaho Falls plated five runs in the third, taking advantage of Highland miscues for the early lead.

The Tigers led 7-3 before the Rams offense started heating up with three runs in the fifth to cut the deficit to 7-6.

Bradley Thompson’s RBI single to left in the bottom of the inning scored Jaxon Sorenson with an insurance run for Idaho Falls (24-4). Bradley then took the mound in relief, and bolstered by a diving catch in center by Anderson, held on for the save despite Highland adding a run in the seventh.

“Our focus all year has been to play our best baseball at the end,” coach Trent Johnson said. “We’ve shown the last few weeks we’re starting to hit our stride.”

Eliot Jones and Nate Rose each knocked in two runs for Idaho Falls in the nightcap.

Highland (18-10) enters the state tournament as the district’s No. 2 team.

IDAHO FALLS 4, HIGHLAND 0

Highland 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 0 4 1

Idaho Falls 0 1 0 2 0 1 x – 4 6 1

HIGHLAND – Pitching: Easton Eddie 3.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 6 K, 5 BB; Trem Tolman 2.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 K, 2 BB. 2B: Choule.

IDAHO FALLS – Pitching: Merit Jones 7.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 9 K, 3 BB. Leading hitters: Nate Rose 2-3, Zack Bridges 2-4, Dylan Seeley 2-3. 2B: Rose, Seeley. RBI: Beau Anderson, Rose.

IDAHO FALLS 8, HIGHLAND 7

Highland 0 0 0 3 3 0 1 – 7 8 4

Idaho Falls 0 0 5 2 1 0 x – 8 6 1

HIGHLAND – Pitching: Christensen 5.0 IP, 6 H, 8 R, 3 ER, 3 K, 3 BB; Farnsworth 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 K, 2 BB. Leading hitters: Durham 2-4, Hansen 2-3. RBI: Jaxon Christensen 2. Aaron Kearns, Austin Hansen 2.

IDAHO FALLS –Pitching: Nate Rose 5.0 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 K, 4 BB; Bradley Thompson 2.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 K, 1 BB. Leading hitters: Rose 2-4, Jaxon Cherry 2-2. 3B: Merit Jones, Rose. RBI: Merit Jones, Eliot Jones 2, Rose 2, Thompson.

{span}Allan Steele is Sports Editor of the Post Register. Reach him at 208 542-6772 and follow on Twitter at asteele12000{/span}

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