Ridgevue baseball coach Jason Wonderlich still has a copy of the newspaper, the one that predicted the Warhawks would finish seventh out of eight teams in the 4A Southern Idaho Conference this season.
He reminded the Warhawks (15-10) of that preseason prediction Thursday. And he pointed out just how wrong they proved it after winning the first district title in the program’s five-year history.
Ridgevue beat perennial power Bishop Kelly 13-11 in the 4A District Three Tournament championship game at Vallivue, jumping out to an early lead and fending off a late rally from the Knights (19-5) before storming the field.
“We’ve been grinding since Day 1, and no one really expected it from us,” Ridgevue senior Nathan Rice said. “It’s crazy what a new coach can come in and do.”
The preseason expectations were not a surprise outside of Ridgevue. The Warhawks had never posted a winning record (aside from a 2-1 mark in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign). They were a combined 23-54 (.299) since their first game in 2017. They had yet to win anything but a loser’s bracket game at the district tournament. And they were the only team that failed to qualify for the last district tournament in 2019 after finishing the regular season in last place.
That led the rest of the league’s coaches to discount them in a preseason poll conducted by the Idaho Statesman. But Wonderlich, a first-year coach from Rocky Mountain, said he installed sky-high standards from the beginning and held the Warhawks to them.
“We talked to the boys at the first practice, the first tryout, and said you’re going to be in for a culture shock,” Wonderlich said. “There are high expectations. From Day 1, we challenged the boys to put themselves in the moment of playing in a district championship or a state championship and practicing with that level of intensity each and every day.”
The Warhawks finished fifth in the regular-season standings, the best finish in program history. But they weren’t done rewriting the new program’s record books.
A 5-1 win over Columbia put them in the district semifinals for the first time. Then Ridgevue upset top-seeded Middleton 8-1 behind an Easton Amundson grand slam to clinch its first state tournament berth.
All that set the stage for Thursday, when Ridgevue knocked off the defending district champ to bring home the program’s first trophy of any kind.
“It feels great,” Amundson said. “The last three years have been rough. But it was great to come out and lead the team to a championship.”
Thursday’s championship performance wasn’t always pretty. The Warhawks committed seven errors and their pitchers combined to issue six walks. But Ridgevue jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning, stretched it to 9-2 in the third and dug in as Bishop Kelly rallied.
Both teams advance to next week’s 4A state tournament at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls. Ridgevue will face Canyon Ridge (17-8) at 1 p.m. May 20 in the first round. Bishop Kelly opens against Sandpoint (18-8) at 4 p.m. May 20.
PITCH COUNT VIOLATION ENDS MIDDLETON’S SEASON
Middleton, the 4A SIC regular-season champ, saw its season end with a rule violation.
The Vikings beat Vallivue 3-2 on Tuesday in a 4A District Three Tournament elimination game. But they allowed one of their players to exceed the maximum number of pitches allowed over multiple days.
That forced the Vikings (15-9) to forfeit the victory and end their season.
Vallivue took Middleton’s spot in the third-place game Thursday. Columbia beat the Falcons 3-0 behind Caden Campa’s one-hit shutout to advance to a state play-in game Saturday.
NO-HITTER LEADS NAMPA CHRISTIAN TO DISTRICT TITLE
Carson Atwood carried the Trojans (23-0) to their third straight 2A District Three title Thursday, throwing a five-inning no-hitter and striking out 10 in a 10-0 win over Melba.
Landon Cheney doubled and drove in three runs, and Josh Tiersma went 3-for-4 with an RBI as Nampa Christian continued its perfect season.