As early spring snow fell on their home Hailey field, the Wood River High School boys baseball team opened their 2023 season with their eyes two months ahead, with two goals in mind.
“Number one, to play our best ball in May,” coach Brad Thompson said. “And number two, to get a ticket to the dance,” the state tournament.
Twenty-nine games later, the Wolverines had accomplished both.
Wood River’s season ended last week with a pair of losses in the ISHAA 4A state tournament in Twin Falls—a stage the program hadn’t seen since 2008, before this year’s senior class had even entered kindergarten. Four-year-olds then, the class of 2023 led the Wolverines to the school’s second-ever 4A state berth.
Speaking to the Express on Tuesday, falling to eventual champ Pocatello and conference rival Twin Falls in the tournament seemed almost incidental to Thompson—disappointing, yes, but a footnote for a roster that accomplished what they had aimed to do against lengthening odds.
With winter stretching through May, the team held practices indoors most of the season. No pop flies, no pick-offs, no grass, no dirt. For some of the team, it was still hockey season: members of the U18 Sun Valley Suns were playing—and winning—a national title while other schools were training for spring. Wood River’s first 19 games came on the road. After that, they got a couple of on-field practices in before their first home game, a doubleheader against Mountain Home, on April 28.
From there, Thompson said the improvement was immense. Though he lamented the lack of practice time—”imagine the possibilities,” he said—the team peaked as May, and finally sunshine, rolled in. Goal number one checked off.
“These men showed what we could do,” Thompson said. “Getting that monkey off our back—we hadn’t been to state in 15 years—that was a pretty huge accomplishment for us. It took a special group of kids to do that.”
For a group of seniors that had been playing together since they were seven or eight years old, it was a fitting capstone.
Standout senior pitcher Eric Parris, the team’s “great emotional leader,” was central to the effort, Thompson said.
After struggling through health issues earlier in the year, Parris was part of an offensive resurgence in the District IV Great Basin 7 tournament that saw Wood River win three straight elimination games to earn the conference’s second bid to state.
The two-way player got the ball in the first game of the state tournament against No. 2 Pocatello. There, as happens in baseball from time to time, they ran into a pitcher on his best day. Pocatello senior Brody Burch—who would go on to win a state 800m track title in Boise later that weekend—carried a perfect game into the sixth inning. After an error, Wood River senior Clayton Elsbree broke up the perfect game—and the no-hitter, and the shutout—with an RBI triple to score the team’s first run in state.
Pocatello went on to win 8-1, playing the best baseball Thompson said he’d seen all year.
“They played the game with dignity, and they won with dignity,” he said of the eventual 4A champs. “We’re bummed things didn’t go the way we wanted to...but [they played] great baseball all around.
“We were looking to surprise some people. We knew we were dangerous. We didn’t want people to overlook us—and to their credit, Pocatello didn’t.”
A day later, Twin Falls, which went unbeaten in Great Basin 7 play, knocked Wood River out of the bracket, 9-7.
These losses didn’t sour Thompson’s view of the 16-13 season.
“Everything was very positive,” he said. “Even with the challenges, even when things didn’t go our way, the energy in the dugout was amazing with this group of guys. They competed to the last pitch, to the last at bat. That’s really the story with this team.”
Thompson credits this year’s team for changing the culture around Wood River baseball, particularly for overcoming what in years past they called “the Wood River inning,” a frame where everything goes wrong at once, and things snowball into a loss. “That’s a big part of the growth this year,” he said. “They didn’t let that become a habit.”
Wood River will graduate seven seniors next month. Some plan to go on to play hockey. Parris will continue his baseball career at Glendale Community College in Arizona. Others will leave athletics, like Wood River High School, in their past.
After the last out against Twin, Thompson and coach Dave Slotten let the team know they were proud of what they’d accomplished.
“There wasn’t much left to say,” Thompson recalled.
“This is a special group of young men from top to bottom,” he said, “from the seniors to the kids who just had a chance to run or pinch hit one time. We’re excited for what they did—for who they are. It’s been an honor coaching them through their high school careers.” ￼
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