Kendrick wins regular-season Whitepine League baseball title

May 4—Going into Friday's game at Clearwater Field in Lewiston, both the Kendrick and Troy baseball teams had matching conference records and with the regular-season Whitepine League title on the line, the Tigers prevailed with a 10-2 decision.

It was the largest defeat suffered by the Trojans, winners of two straight Idaho Class 1A state baseball championships, since an 11-3 loss to North Star of Eagle, Idaho on March 25, 2022.

"I think the first couple innings we were trying to do too much," Kendrick coach Kyle Jones said. "And so, we just settled in and got into a rhythm and did our job like we work on every day. Not trying to do anything more. We were a little loose on defense to start things out and really proud of (Noah Littlefield) the way he pushed through that. Continued to throw a pile of strikes and kept us in a place where we knew we could get past those guys and keep moving forward."

Before Kendrick (13-7, 12-2) could call itself regular-season league champs, it had to fight through an early deficit. Littlefield made that endeavor a lot easier for the Tigers with a season-best performance on the mound.

Littlefield, big pitches

The last appearance Littlefield had before getting the start against Troy was one inning of relief April 25 against Prairie His last start was April 18 against Grangeville and he gave up eight runs on five hits in 5 1/3 innings.

On Friday, Littlefield was the pitcher that Jones "knew he could be."

After some early struggles that saw the Trojans (15-4, 11-3) go up 2-0 through three innings, Littlefield got to work.

He let up two hits in seven innings pitched and struck out 10 batters while walking two.

Littlefield had to fight through what started out as an early pitching duel against the Trojans' starter Joseph Bendel.

Littlefield didn't walk a batter until the bottom of the third and Bendel didn't give up a free base until the top of the fourth.

"I think it's a great step for our team," Littlefield said. "I think this is a great start for us to maybe, potentially, take home a state title. I think it's a great step in knowing that we can do it. The fact that (Troy) took state the last two years, I think it kind of gives us the mental ability to think that we can do it."

Littlefield's outing helped keep the Trojans lead to just a couple of runs. Kendrick's offense rewarded its hurler's efforts.

Bats get hot for Tigers, cold for Trojans

It wasn't a particularly clean game for either team. The Trojans had five errors and the Tigers had four.

Kendrick's second error came in the bottom of the third. A throwing error from Tigers shortstop Ty Koepp scored Troy's Rowan Tyler, giving the Trojans a 2-0 lead.

After that, the bats started to heat up for Kendrick.

In the top of the fourth, Mason Kimberling hit a grounder that took a bounce on the edge of the grass over the glove of Dominic Holden, who was playing shortstop for the Trojans. That play brought in two runs to tie the game 2-2. In the next at-bat, Maddox Kirkland hit an RBI single to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead.

Troy had an opportunity to respond in its half of the fourth, but left two runners stranded. After that, the Tigers' pitching and a reemphasized focus on defense prevented the Trojans from being in position to retake the reins of the game.

Kendrick put up seven runs in the fifth and sixth innings for its total of 10 runs — its 10th double-digit performance this season.

District tournament looms

The Tigers' regular-season league title means it won't have to compete in a play-in game before the district tournament, which starts Friday at Orofino High School.

With the loss, Troy is slated as the third seed behind Kendrick and Potlatch and will play Genesee (sixth seed) in a district tournament play-in game on Tuesday at a to-be-determined time. The game will take place at either Troy High School or Clearwater Field in Lewiston.

The Trojans have won five straight against the Bulldogs and six of the last seven. As winners of the last two state championships, Troy has an understanding of what it needs to do to win.

"(We've seen) some adversity and now we got to play through it," Troy coach Tyler Strunk said. "Being able to see what we did here and bounce back from it. We've got a lot of good ball players that can turn it around on a dime. So that's going to be our focus right now.

"We got a play-in game on Tuesday. We got to win that one. And then, just get locked in for Districts. Have our lineup figured out, make some last-minute changes here or there. But we just got to get some hits together."

The Tigers also have an opportunity to take the next step as a program.

Kendrick has lost in the opening round of the district tournament the last two years. The team is filled with athletes who have been state champions, either in football or basketball. And Jones hopes that championship pedigree and mentality can continue to translate to the baseball field.

"We're fortunate to where these guys are used to winning in other sports," Jones said. "They understand that getting to this level is a place where we expect it to be. We haven't got here in the past. So getting here is where they felt like they needed to be and they understand the work that it takes and what's at the end of the journey. And that's what we're reaching for."

Kendrick 000 343 0—10 8 4

Troy 101 000 0— 2 2 5

Noah Littlefield and Wyatt Fitzmorris; Joseph Bendel, Eli Stoner (6) and Makhi Durrett. W—Littlefield; L—Bendel.

Kendrick hits — Hunter Taylor 3 (2B), Nathan Kimberling 2, Ty Koepp (2B), Maddox Kirkland Ralli Roetcisoender.

Troy hits — Dominic Holden, Derrick Chamberlin,

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