NAMPA — Cobe Lehman was clearly the most excited person on the field.
The Vallivue junior baseball player did the shoulder tap with a fellow teammate and then emphatically threw his glove into the dugout in elation. He had more than one reason to celebrate.
The Falcons not only downed Skyview 4-3 in eight innings in a battle for first place in the 4A Southern Idaho Conference standings Friday night at Skyview High, but they did so on his birthday.
“Best birthday present of the day for sure,” Lehman said. “Skyview is a great team and they’ve always been a good program. So for us to come out the way that we did and pick up this win was huge. This is just the type of win we can use to build up our own program.”
The celebration came after Lehman shut the door on the Hawks, who have won four out of the last five 4A District III titles, for good in the bottom of the eighth inning. He came in for relief with the Falcons (15-3, 8-0 4A SIC) holding a slim 4-3 advantage
The newly turned 18-year-old put Skyview down in order. He forced Jesse Fuentes to ground out before recording back-to-back strikeouts on Bryson Vaughn and Wade Carpenter. Carpenter thought the final strike was a ball, but Lehman didn’t as he ran toward the dugout in euphoria. The umpire agreed, and Lehman earned the win on the mound.
Lehman’s late-game heroics were set up by Lan Larison. In the top half of the eighth inning, the sophomore stepped to the plate with fellow teammate Chase Carpenter 90 feet away from home at third.
Larison smacked a hard shot toward Skyview third baseman Evan Harmon. But Harmon was unable to corral it. It slipped right of his glove and rolled into left field. The fielding error allowed Larison to plate Carpenter for the go-ahead run.
The RBI was far from the only highlight of the day for Larison. He tallied three singles, all while batting ninth.
“I don’t think about the spot I’m hitting at. I just go out there and hit,” Larison said. “Our coaches set it up that way. I’m not down there because I’m a bad hitter or anything like that. It’s just best for the team for me to be in that spot. But I was happy I could make some plays today.”
Lehman also had an impressive day at the plate. He went 2 for 4 with the lone extra base hit of the game for Vallivue, with a double into left field in the seventh inning.
But it was Lehman and senior Jake Daniel’s pitching that was the difference. During the Hawks’ last seven games they were averaging more than 11 runs per game. But their offense was nowhere to be found in the first five innings.
Daniel didn’t allow a hit through the first three innings and Skyview managed just two hits going into the bottom of the sixth. The Hawks finished with six total hits and the three runs scored were the fewest in eight games.
“I was just focused on throwing strikes and mixing up my looks,” Daniel said. “I knew with how good Skyview is and how well they hit the ball, it was really important that I locate and hit my spots. I thought I did a pretty good job of doing that and I think that allowed us to really hold their offense in check.”
But Skyview (9-7, 5-2 4A SIC) still forced extra innings with a three-run sixth. Trailing 3-0, Blake Maxwell and Fuentes each logged hits to put two on with no outs. Vaughn then brought them home with a two-run single to center field.
Following back-to-back outs, Jacob O’Dell knotted the game at 3-3 with a hard hit grounder to center field. But a ground out by Jake Hamilton stranded O’Dell at second and the Hawks went down in order in the seventh before the crucial error in the eighth did them in for good.
The error was one of four on the day for Skyview. The first directly led to Vallivue scoring the game’s first run in the top of the third. Cooper Sutton notched an RBI after his ground ball went right through the legs of Vaughn. Vaughn was the victim of another fielding error the very next inning after Carpenter’s grounder rolled off his glove.
A passed ball in the fifth led to Vallivue runners advancing into scoring position at second and third base. Two batters later, Hauk Wyatt connected on a two-run single to left field to extend the Falcons’ lead to 3-0.
“It’s the story of our season,” Skyview coach Ryan Bobo said. “We just had too many defensive lapses, too many errors, too many free bases and unearned runs that came up to bite us today. It’s frustrating to say the least. But we’ll get it fixed.”
Vaughn was the only Skyview player with more than one hit with two and a pair of RBIs. Starting pitcher Jayson Hibbard allowed eight hits and fanned five in seven innings of work. Seth Miller took the loss on the hill with a strikeout and a walk.
Daniel pitched seven innings himself for Vallivue. He gave up six hits and struck out six.
With the win, Vallivue has now won seven in a row and 12 out of its last 13 games to open up a two-game lead in the 4A SIC rankings with just seven games remaining.
The Falcons haven’t won a regular season conference title in 17 years. Imagine what kind of celebration would ensue then.
“There’s no secret, no magic, no wand, just 14 guys who believe in each other,” Vallivue coach Justin Schneidt said. “Even if they’re having a bad day, they know someone is just going to pick them up. That culture and that family feel that they bring with them every game is going to carry them far this season.”