By Michael Guise, email@example.com
BLACKFOOT â€” Liam Pope tossed his sunglasses and hat to the ground, threw his arms out and screamed toward an empty dugout.
His team and coaches were nowhere to be found as they were already on the diamond celebrating. Gloves and equipment left a trail that Pope followed to meet his team at the pitcherâ€™s mound. The Broncos jumped joyously after rallying from a five-run deficit to beat Skyline 7-6 on Wednesday at home in the semifinals of the 4A District 5-6 tournament, clinching a spot in the 4A state tournament. The two teams split their Tuesday doubleheader to force the winner-to-state game.
The Broncos (15-12) play Friday at Melaleuca Field against Idaho Falls in the district championship, with the winner earning the districtâ€™s top seed to state and the loser earning the second.
The Broncos scored five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to erase a 6-2 deficit and stun the Grizzlies. Blackfootâ€™s rally was capped with a bases-loaded, two-RBI single from Jerod Gough, who finished the day with two hits and three RBIs.
â€śI was watching and waiting to find my pitch,â€ť Gough said. â€śIt was two balls, two strikes in the count and he threw me an inside one, and I put it in play and put pressure on the defense. â€¦ Itâ€™s surreal. We are going to state.â€ť
Blackfoot began the sixth inning with an RBI double from Payson Mills, who was singled home by Chase Turner on the next at-bat to bring the Broncos within 6-4. After an intentional walk and a single from Carlos Pimentel loaded the bases, Joe Maddox walked, scoring Turner and cutting the deficit to 6-5. Gough followed with the go-ahead, two-RBI single.
The Broncos scored all five of their runs in the sixth with two outs.
Kyson Van Orden pitched the top of the seventh to close out the game for the Broncos, who qualified for state for the first time since the 2016 season.
Blackfoot lost to Idaho Falls last season in a winner-to-state game in the district semifinals after losing pitcher Pacen Hayes to injury late in the season and starting infielder Cole Baler died in a car accident on April 23.
â€śIt really is a true high knowing you are going to state. … There is still a lot of pent up emotion from not making it last season after everything we went through,â€ť Pope said. â€śTo get to this place last year and lose, it has lived with me. We wanted it more than normal.â€ť
Skyline jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two innings, thanks to RBIs from Mason Jacobsen, Nick Layland and Easton Taylor. Caleb Wilson and Gough added one RBI each on the bottom of the third to cut the Broncosâ€™ deficit to 3-2, but Cruz Taylorâ€™s RBI groundout in the top of the fourth, Jacobsenâ€™s RBI single in the fifth and another Cruz Taylor RBI in the top of the sixth pushed the Grizzlies ahead 6-2.
Cruz Taylor and Jacobsen each finished with a team-high two RBIs, while Easton Taylor had a team-high three hits.
â€śWe played well enough to win,â€ť Skyline coach Brett Taylor said. â€śEnough little things added up and that decides if you win or lose. There was just enough that we couldnâ€™t do it.â€ť
Skyline closed the 2018 season 15-11 after finishing third at state a season ago. It is the first time since 2015 that the Grizzlies will not be playing in the state tournament.
â€śTo see everything they knew they could do and they donâ€™t get what they worked all season for and to end that way, that stuff hurts,â€ť coach Taylor said.