NAMPA – At 7 a.m. Saturday morning, Nampa softball coach Stephen Imbriani – helping out as his school hosted the 2A state tournament – ventured to Target and began tossing white towels in his cart.
Almost nine hours later, as dark skies peppered the state title game with enough rain to cause a five-minute delay, Malad coach Christie Schow made an odd request in the middle of what would be a 13-3 victory over West Jefferson to secure Malad's fifth 2A state championship since 2013.
Schow called time, walked onto the field and asked if her pitcher could keep a small towel with her in the circle. The man behind the plate obliged, so Malad senior Riley Dorius stuck what looked like a white handkerchief in her back left pocket.
Dorius, the most dominant 2A pitcher in the state, was in a more precarious spot than she’s faced in a while. West Jefferson loaded the bases on her before the Dragons’ ace walked in a run with one out. With her squad up just a pair of runs, Schow figured she better take advantage of Imbriani’s early-morning purchase.
"It kind of helped," Dorius said with a chuckle. "But the towel was wet."
And, thus, it didn’t seem to be working. Dorius wiped off the big yellow ball with the towel and proceeded to fire a pitch high into the backstop. Suddenly, the undefeated juggernaut, the top team in the state, the best 2A softball program of the last decade was on the ropes.
Merrill Dorius, Riley's father and a Malad assistant, paced repetitively in the same oval-like path behind the Dragons' dugout. It was a nervous saunter in the midst of his daughter's final game of her illustrious career, a four-year stint on varsity that concluded with the self-assured star hitting over .600 and posting a sub-1.00 ERA as a senior.
Merrill Dorius, Schow and all those on the Malad side aren’t used to much tension – at least, not this season. The Dragons finished the year 25-0 and never allowed more than six runs in a contest. But when those rare moments of panic arise, Riley Dorius is the bat-signal up in the air, assuring everyone no harm is coming.
"I live for that," Dorius said of the pressure. "I know it's going to happen, I just have to go with it."
So of course Malad finished the inning unscathed. Dorius struck out McKenna Naville and ended the inning by fielding Taylor Peterson's chopper and firing it to first. The Dragons went on to score five runs in the bottom half of the inning and cruise to a 10-run championship victory – the first since Schow took over the program in 2020.
"I was excited for this year because I knew we were taking the game to a new level," Schow said. "We are a force to be reckoned with just because we have every aspect of the game. Not that we’re perfect.”
Well, in 2021, the Dragons were perfect – a squad that dominated all 25 opponents put in front of them. And on three occasions this season, that team was West Jefferson (24-4), a group that was all but flawless this season aside from those three games against Malad.
The Panthers ran into a buzzsaw twice in the state tournament and their season shouldn't be looked upon with any sort of disappointment, West Jefferson coach Raquel Torgerson argued, because they couldn't evade that buzzsaw.
"We've never gotten better than third," Torgerson said. "So we made history today. Maybe not in the (perfect) way – we were hoping for the banner – but you know what, shooting for the moon and hitting a few stars isn't a bad place to be."
Torgerson's daughter, Jordyn, starred on the mound for West Jefferson all season, a dominant strikeout pitcher with stats just barely below those of Dorius. On Saturday, she drove in three runs and only allowed a quartet of hits to give West Jefferson a 15-4 win over Bear Lake in the 2A semifinal.
But, less than an hour later, the Panthers again ran into that buzzsaw, the dominant force in 2A softball that have rarely seemed fazed on its road to a perfect season.
"At the end of day, the better team will win," Schow said. "And, at the end of the day, I know we're the better team."
MALAD 13, WEST JEFFERSON 3
West Jefferson 000 210 0 — 3 2 6
Malad 300 514 x — 13 10 2
West Jefferson — LP: Jordyn Torgerson.
Malad — WP: Riley Dorius. 2B: Madison Green, Adley Kimberling.