Bears win district baseball championship with a sixth-inning burst

May 9—MOSCOW — Last year, the Moscow baseball team made it to the Idaho Class 4A state tournament with a 9-17 record after a dark horse run through its district tournament. This year, the Bears came in as the favorites with a 16-7 record.

The result was still the same and Moscow clinched its second straight state tournament berth with a 10-2 win over the Sandpoint Bulldogs on Wednesday at the Moscow Community Playfields.

"I just think, ultimately, this group of guys (is) such a good team," Moscow coach Griffin Rod said. "They love each other so much. They've settled me down because they're so confident. I think if you let us hang around, good things are going to happen. ... They fought and clawed and did what we hoped they would do in terms of finishing off a really good season for them as a group."

The Bulldogs' season was on the line after losing to the Bears 7-0 on Monday to start the best-of-three district series. For the first few innings, the visitors from up north played like it.

Sandpoint starts strong, Moscow responds

In front of a decent crowd of vocal Sandpoint and Moscow supporters, the Bulldogs immediately rewarded their faithful for making the 2-hour, 15-minute drive down to Moscow.

Sandpoint (7-17) went up 2-0 after the top of the first, courtesy of a fielder's choice and an RBI double from junior shortstop and pitcher Jorden Tyler.

Those runs were the first and last for the visitors, and it didn't take long for the Bears (17-7) to respond.

Moscow junior catcher Tyson Izzo hit an RBI single and senior Jack Driskill was walked with the bases loaded to tie the score 2-2 after the first inning.

The Bears pulled ahead in the bottom of the third after Tyler sailed a throw to first base, allowing Moscow senior Ethan McLaughlin to score on the errant toss.

The 3-2 Bears advantage held for several innings. Both teams managed to get a couple of runners on base in the frames that followed, but no scores came of it. Despite the lack of action on the scoreboard, the vocal crowd was on its toes at any crack of the bat.

As the game progressed, it seemed like the winner was going to be the team that exploited the first big opening.

Moscow was that team.

Sixth-inning blitz

The Bulldogs' starting pitcher Sage Medeiros was pulled after the third inning. Sandpoint's first reliever, Brent Campbell, pitched two innings after and did a decent job of keeping the Bears' bats in check.

In the bottom of the sixth, Moscow's bats started to heat up.

Bears junior JP Breese hit a lead-off double to kick-start the offense. He led the team on the day with four hits and two doubles.

"I feel like early in the game, we definitely struggled to get the barrels going," Breese said. "But later on, we got that energy up and just played Bears baseball, honestly."

Senior Jamison Green brought Breese home with an RBI double and bumped the score up to 4-2.

The situation continued to snowball after that for Sandpoint. By the time the sixth inning was over, Moscow scored four runs via walks, hit by pitches or wild pitches with the bases loaded.

The Bulldogs ended up going through three pitchers in the sixth. Breese, who started off the inning, hit his second double of the frame, this one for an RBI, to bring the Bears' advantage up to 9-2.

"Hitting-wise, I know we put in the work every single day," Breese said. "So, it's definitely what we expected. Not as early as we expected, but we definitely got the job done and we're all happy with that."

Tommy Holt scored the next at-bat on a fielder's choice to give Moscow the eventual final score of 10-2.

Kiblen goes the distance

Sandpoint's pitching struggles allowed Moscow to open the floodgates in the sixth.

The Bears benefited from the other side of that coin.

Starter Butch Kiblen went the full seven innings, allowed no runs after the first inning and struck out six batters while walking one.

"I just felt like I had a slow start, honestly," Kiblen said. "I don't want to say they couldn't hit my stuff but I've dominated them before. So I knew I could do it again. Just had to get going."

Bears bound for State

For the second year in a row, Moscow is heading to the state baseball tournament. The tournament begins May 16 at Vallivue High School in Caldwell.

Unlike last year, the Bears aren't going in as underdogs.

Early in the season, the team traveled and competed against a slate of southern Idaho teams that included Caldwell, Ridgevue, Kuna and Skyview. The Bears went 2-2 against those teams.

"We used (that early-season trip) as an opportunity to get practice for State," Rod said. "From checking into the hotels, to team meetings, to breakfast — and of course, seeing those teams. After that trip we knew we could certainly hang with any of those guys. We were still getting going and we won a couple good ball games, lost a tight one. I think it's just the ability to erase the name in front of the shirt."

There's more confidence to this year's Moscow team that might not have been there last season. The Bears have seen first-hand the quality of teams in the state tournament between their berth last year and this year's early regular season games.

The team feels more prepared.

"When we went down there at the start of the year, I'd say we battled against every team we faced," Kiblen said. "We know we can go down there and battle against them. We did it at the start of the year and that's when we were just starting to figure things out. Now that we're on a roll and figured our stuff out, I think we can go down there and do some damage."

Sandpoint 200 000 0— 2 6 1

Moscow 201 007 x—10 9 2

Sage Medeiros, Brent Campbell (4), Lucas Hansen (6), Jorden Tyler (6) and Gavin Day; Butch Kiblen and Tyson Izzo.

Sandpoint hits — Jesse Turner (2B), Drew Lehman (2B), Finn Mellander (2B), Mason Little, Day, Hansen.

Moscow hits — JP Breese 4 (2 2B), Jamison Green 2 (2B), Izzo, Jack Driskill, Connor Isakson.

Kowatsch can be contacted at 208-848-2268, or on Twitter @Teren_Kowatsch.