First-year head coach Juan Martinez has welcomed a veteran Wood River American Legion baseball team to the pandemic-shortened 2020 season in the Area C “A” ranks.
The 14-player Wood River Wranglers squad is set to debut its 14-game regular-season schedule in the Area C “A” West Division with a road doubleheader at the Buhl Tribe on Monday, June 22.
Game times are 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Buhl’s city field.
Martinez is being assisted by Andy Ruiz, one of the top Wrangler hitters and pitchers over the last few summers, along with Skyler Jensen and Bart Curd, president of the Wood River Baseball and Softball Association (WRBSA).
The roster of 16-18 year olds includes the foundation of last year’s Wood River Wranglers (16-14 record) that fell short of making the Area C “A” District tournament for the first time since 2013.
Health concerns have changed everything this year, in fact, the Boise Area B is not playing Legion baseball at all—choosing to extend its high school baseball season with Boise-area games, only.
Indeed, no district tournament will be held this year in the 23-team Area C “A” division, which includes the East Division based in Idaho Falls, the Central Division in the Pocatello area and the West Division around Twin Falls.
But a State “A” tournament is planned in Pocatello July 27-31 featuring the top two West teams from the regular season, the top three from Central and top three East.
It makes the regular-season results vital to qualifying for the state tournament, which coach Martinez has set for Wood River’s goal in 2020.
Martinez has planned 12 road games among the 14 and only started practicing on Founders Field this week.
This year, any Idaho American Legion team utilizing its high school field like Wood River has been restricted by Idaho’s re-opening orders from using its field to host games until June 27.
No games at all were allowed until June 13, so Idaho’s American Legion program has embarked on what organizers call a “makeshift” season with all the challenges of field issues.
WRBSA Legion director Keith Potter said in a pre-season letter to parents on woodriverbaseball.com, “We will have to wear face coverings during practices and games. We have ordered custom Wood River face masks and buffs that will be part of the uniform.
“Sanitizing dugouts, equipment and other areas of the field will be a big undertaking for all of us……..Every step will be taken to minimize the risk, but you will assume the risk if you play.”
The Wrangler roster includes five 18-year-olds. They are Chance Appell, Huck Sprong, Blake Nelson, Abel Rojas and Andrew Nelson.
Rounding out the roster are Ethan Shoemaker, Boone Scherer, 16-year-olds Hunter Thompson and David Garcia, Dylan Mills, Dylan Bauer, Liam Curd, Ashton Tanner and Jesus Sandoval.
Last summer’s leading pitcher was Shoemaker (5-2 record, 2.93 ERA in 43 innings, 37 strikeouts, 11 walks in 11 games). Other top arms were Thompson (3-3, 5.84 ERA, 42 strikeouts) and Scherer (3-2, 3.98 ERA, 40 strikeouts).
Sprong (.452 batting average, .699 slugging, 18 RBI, 24 runs, 33 hits in 25 games) topped hitters, followed by Shoemaker (.415, .610 slugging, 34 hits, 22 RBI, 27 runs, 24 BB); and Blake Nelson (.397, 31 hits, 14 RBI, 37 runs, 18 BB, 11 K).
Missing this summer from the West Division is last year’s regular-season champion Mountain Home, which returned to Area B this time.
Wood River’s schedule after Monday’s Buhl twinbill: June 25 at Jerome, 4 p.m./6 p.m.; June 29 at Kimberly, 4/6; on Wednesday, July 1 home against Twin Falls at Founders Field, 4/6; July 6 at Wendell 5/7; July 7 at Kimberly AA, 4/6; and Monday, July 13 in Twin Falls against Canyon Ridge, 4/6.