POCATELLO — The game’s final pop fly seemed to stay airborne forever.
When it finally landed in Micah Naumu’s glove in shallow left-center field, Highland’s long wait was over.
Dalton Jones chucked his glove toward the dugout and hugged Dylan Jester before the rest of the Rams piled on. Highland’s celebration consumed the pitcher’s mound at Halliwell Park, where Jones tossed all seven innings for the Rams en route to a 6-3 win over Madison to claim the 5A District 5-6 championship.
Tuesday’s title was Highland’s first since 2015.
“We just really came together. We pulled together,” Jones said. “We really wanted to be district champs. We wanted to all season, but then once it started getting closer, we started tasting it.”
Jones and the top-seeded Rams avenged last year’s loss to Bonneville in the district championship series. No one on the youth-laden Highland squad had won a district title before. The team’s only two seniors — Naumu and Grayson Hunt — were in eighth grade in 2015.
The first-place hardware is also a first for second-year Rams coach Christian Colonel, whose high expectations for his Highland teams are coming to fruition.
“They rise to the occasion more times than they don’t,” Colonel said. “I’m so proud of these guys.”
Out No. 21 for Jones and the Rams (19-6-1) was much like the first 20. The junior right-hander relied on his defense to keep Madison’s score low, as Jones did not sit down any batters via strikeout.
Jones’ defense committed four errors, but a few clutch plays prevented more miscues. Easton Durham erased a would-be hit with a diving catch in shallow center in the third inning, Naumu raced far into foul left-field territory to turn a long strike into an out in the fourth, and Kobe Holt was a brick wall and a vacuum all in one at first base.
The Rams also turned two double plays, including a game-changer in the opening inning, when two hits and an error loaded the bases with one out for Madison. Jones got Mason Flanary to ground into a 6-4-3 twin killing to end the threat and keep the score 0-0.
“That completely flipped the momentum from them to us,” Jones said. “That really just got us going.”
At the plate, Highland was buoyed by a five-run third inning. Durham and Braxton Wilhelm singled to open the frame, and a walk by Seth Nate loaded the bases with nobody out. Jester walked to force in a run, Hunt hit an RBI single and Jones helped his own cause with a two-RBI double to give Highland a 4-0 lead and chase Bobcats starting pitcher Dylan Rydalch.
The six-batter outburst was all the offense Highland needed. Holt added a sacrifice fly in the third and Hunt singled home Nate in the fourth to insure Highland’s lead.
“We had a few innings where we really started connecting,” Jones said.
No. 2-seeded Madison (9-17) scored once in the fifth and twice in the sixth to inject some drama into a one-sided game. The Bobcats got runners to the corners with two outs in the seventh, bringing the tying run to the plate. Davis Berry flew out to Naumu to give Highland the championship.
Jones allowed six hits and walked none, throwing 60 of his 94 pitches for strikes.
“Same as he’s been all year long. Just consistent,” Colonel said of his hurler. “He gives us a chance every time. That’s all we can ask for.”
Jones and Hunt had two hits and two RBIs apiece for the Rams, who take the 5-6A seed into the 5A state tournament at Boise Hawks Memorial Stadium. Highland will play a 4:30 p.m. game May 16 versus the winner of a play-in game between the District 1-2 runner-up and the No. 5 seed from District 3.
Madison will take seed 5-6B into the 5A state tournament and will open with a 10 a.m. game on May 16 versus the District 3 champion. The Bobcats return to state for the first time since 2017 and for the fifth time in seven seasons.
HIGHLAND 6, MADISON 3
Madison 000 012 0—3 6 3
Highland 005 100 x—6 6 4
MADISON—Pitchers: Dylan Rydalch 2 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 3 K, 3 BB; Jaden Schwab 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 K, 1 BB; Holloway 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 K, 1 BB; Davis Berry 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 K, 2 BB. Leading hitters: Jordan Porter 2-4, Berry 2-4. 2B: Carter Boice. RBI: Boice 2, Landen Drake.
HIGHLAND—Pitchers: Dalton Jones 7 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 0 K, 0 BB. Leading hitters: Grayson Hunt 2-3, Jones 2-3. 2B: Jones. RBI: Dylan Jester, Jones 2, Kobe Holt, Hunt 2. SB: Braxton Wilhelm