SANDPOINT — To win a state title in baseball you have to win three games in three days, so it helps immensely to have three quality arms to hand the ball to each time out.
Luckily for the Bulldogs, they have just that, and along with some power bats and speed in the lineup, Sandpoint figures to be a dark horse when the 4A Idaho State Baseball Tournament opens today in Idaho Falls.
The Bulldogs (12-6) open against Vallivue (22-5) of Caldwell in the all-important first game, when most teams opt to throw their aces to avoid the consolation bracket and keep title hopes alive.
It’s the first time the Bulldogs have played in the state tournament since 2007, so there figures to be some nerves to deal with on the biggest stage they’ll see all year. Bulldog head coach Chase Tigert feels his team has what it takes to make a run at a title, as long as they don’t try and do too much.
“Continue to trust ourselves. We have all the physical ability you could ask for,” said Tigert, whose team was sharp in the district tournament. “We have that confidence that we can beat anyone, and I believe we can.”
The Falcons went 13-1 in 4A Southern Idaho Conference play, and beat 5As Capital and Timberline during a strong season. They lost 7-5 to Skyview in the conference championship in their previous game, and on paper are one of the favorites.
Sandpoint will lean on senior Tyrone Larson and sophomore Tyler Lehman to eat innings on the mound, and both are coming off stellar showings in the district tournament. Larson is 4-0 on the year with a 1.88 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 23 innings, while Lehman is 3-3 with a 3.07 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 27 innings.
If the game is close late, Preston Pettit has proven reliable as a closer, sporting a 2-2 record with a 3.55 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 25 innings. Thomas Riley and Tristan Authier both figure to see some time on the mound as well, as pitching depth often gets tested at state.
Offensively, the Bulldogs will ride the hot bats of junior Alex Stockton and senior Trey Flint in the middle of the order. Stockton is hitting .407 with two home runs, six doubles, 13 runs and 14 RBIs, while Flint is raking at .481 with two homers, seven doubles and a team-high 26 RBIs.
Setting the table are Lehman (.370, 15 runs, 17 steals), Jacob Cometto (.295, 15 runs, 13 steals) and Tyler Shaffer (.320, 8 steals), aggressive base runners who have only been thrown out five times in 42 steal attempts.
Defensively, the athletic outfield of Stockton, Cometto and Pettit can cover lots of ground and all have plus arms, while short stop Billy Brackett, second baseman Shaffer and third baseman Riley are all steady defensively.
Add it all up, and the Bulldogs will be a tough out at state.
“We’re not done. No one expects us to do what we do,” said Flint, one of four Bulldogs signed to play next year in college. “I can’t wait to get down there. Our pitchers are shutting everybody down.”
The game will be webcast live on Idahosports.com, with first pitch slated for 3 p.m. PST.