Bears baseball gives Moscow a reason to celebrate

May 22—Three days after Moscow won its first baseball state championship in four decades and first team state title in any sport in 13 years, Moscow coach Griffin Rod was still soaking it in.

The Bears (20-7) defeated perennial baseball power Bishop Kelly in walk-off fashion, 7-6, to win the 4A state title on Saturday in Caldwell, Idaho.

"There's still a little bit of 'Did that really happen?'" Rod said.

In the previous four years, Moscow had back-to-back losing seasons, an 11-10 campaign and a one-win shortened season because of the pandemic. Not exactly a stretch that would predict a future 4A champion.

Yet the Bears, many of them also varsity players during some of those struggling seasons, quietly put together a championship contender.

On Thursday, those Bears will enjoy a championship parade through Moscow, from the high school to the Moscow School District Community Playfields where they play their home games.

Parade of champions

Celebrating a new state champ has been a long time coming for the black-and-red clad Moscow faithful.

The Bears' last state team title was girls golf in 2011, the last championship on the boys side was boys golf in '09 and the last time the baseball team hoisted a banner came in 1984 before some of the current players' parents were even born.

All the more reason for the parade at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, from Moscow High to the playfields at Joseph St.

The players will ride in a fire truck or a trailer, and there will be a plaque unveiling and other minor festivities to appreciate the team, Rod said.

"It was crazy how much the community was behind us," Rod said. "People were streaming the game in (John's) Alley, the bar. I had 102 text messages within an hour of the game ending, and only five of them were my family.

"It was really humbling to know how much the community was into this."

Championship rewind

Playing a Bishop Kelly team playing in its fourth straight 4A state championship and trailing by a run going into the bottom of the seventh inning, there was no panic in the Moscow dugout, despite their inexperience in such a high-pressure situation.

"It just felt like we deserved it," Rod said. "It felt like something good was going to happen."

Ethan McLaughlin drew a six-pitch walk, Jack Driskill earned a quick walk, then Connor Isakson came to the plate.

"If anyone can get it to the right side and squeeze it through for a hit, it's Connor," Rod said. "We just felt like we've been bunting all season long and this just felt like the right guy and right moment to take a chance (at a hit)."

Sure enough, Isakson made contact down the first-base line to score courtesy runner Butch Kiblen to tie the game at 6-6. Driskill moved to third.

Then came Tommy Holt — a seldom-used senior who "worked his ass off and proved in the last week of practice that deserved to be (in there)."

With two strikes, Holt hammered a hard grounder to third base, Driskill made a couple of feints to home and the Knights' third baseman made a last-second decision to throw to first base. The throw was off target and Driskill ran home with his arms in the air for the walk-off run.

The celebration was on.

Tournament standouts

Isakson, also the championship's game-winning pitcher, earned all-tournament MVP honors. On the mound, he struck out four in 2 1/3 innings. At the plate, he went 4-for-7 with three RBI over three games.

In the Bears' first two games, Moscow pitchers Levi Anderson and Kiblen each struck out 11 batters and combined to allow just one run in a 6-0 win against Minico and a 8-1 victory against Blackfoot. Two superb pitching outings for a pair that struggled under the lights at State last season.

Holt had an RBI in each of the first two games as well as the game-winning knock in the championship.

Catcher Tyson Izzo completed his third straight season behind home plate — an impact that doesn't show up in the stat sheets.

Drikill scored four runs at State, none bigger than his last one. He and Anderson joined Isakson on the all-tournament team.

Before long, many of the Bears will pick up the bats and gloves again for summer league ball and begin a new title hunt. But for now, the Bears can enjoy their new-found glory.

"I think the hope, even from last year, is the ability to raise the bar and actually have something to stand behind as far as something that works, a culture that we're proud of," Rod said. "If anything this helps solidify all that."

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, or on Twitter @StephanSports.