ELKO – Making its fourth-consecutive trip to the state tournament, the Elko baseball team is hunting for the state championship that has eluded the Indians.
In the opening round of the Division 3A Nevada State Baseball Championships, Elko’s bid for state lore will start with a 4 p.m. Thursday test at McQueen High School in Reno.
The North No. 1 Indians will take on the South No. 2 Trojans of Pahrump Valley for a chance to advance to the state semifinal.
Pahrump Valley was without nearly a full stable of its players in the early portion of the season, its record at the end of March reading 3-11, including an 8-1 loss to Spring Creek on March 9 during the Route 66 Classic in Mojave Valley, Arizona.
With April showers comes May flowers, and the Trojans began the blooming process.
From April 2 forward, the Trojans tore off a 16-4-1 stretch.
Two of the losses in the last half of the season came against defending state champion Boulder City, both defeats taking place in the 3A South regional tournament by scores of 4-3 and 8-2.
On April 3, the Trojans and Eagles tied, the score reading 11-11 after eight innings.
In Pahrump Valley’s 4-3 loss to Boulder City in the regional semifinal, the Trojans built a 3-0 lead through six innings before surrendering four runs to the Eagles in the top half of the seventh.
Pahrump Valley is led in batting average by a .382 clip from junior Willie Lucas, who also tops the roster with 15 extra-base hits on team bests of 13 doubles and two triples, serving as one of four Trojans with 17 RBIs.
Sophomore Chase McDaniel has driven in a team-high 19 RBIs, batting .349 with four doubles, a triple and one of Pahrump Valley’s four homers.
Sophomore Cyle Havel hits .338 with eight doubles and a triple with 17 RBIs, junior Dylan Grossell driving in 17 runs with a .328 average and five doubles with one home run.
Once on base, Pahrump Valley has players who can pressure defenses with speed.
Junior Joey Koenig leads the team with 19 stolen bases, joined in double digits with 13 steals from Lucas and 11 swipes from senior Garrett Lucas.
Garrett Lucas posts a .316 batting average with 17 RBIs and seven doubles with a triple, but he really poses a problem with his arm – not just his bat.
He has been the workhorse for the Trojans on the mound, leading the team with 66-1/3 innings of work, 72 strikeouts, a 2.22 ERA and seven wins against just two losses.
“Their lineup looks pretty dangerous 1-6, so we have to do a good job of limiting the success of the top of their hitters,” said Elko coach Shane Gilligan. “It would be nice if we could hold their offense down and jump on them early and score some runs of our own.”
The Indians hold a sizable advantage in batting average, posting a .385 team total to a .292 clip by the Trojans, Elko also claiming the upper hand in on-base percentage by a tally of .469 to .417.
Pahrump Valley has stolen 103 bases on the year – the Indians swiping 81 bags – but junior Cooper Jones has stolen seven more bases than anyone in the Division 3A North, leading the league with 28 swipes.
Elko is led by a .515 batting average from senior Kamren Backherms – driving in 34 runs and knocking a team-best 14 extra-base hits (10 doubles, four triples) – and junior Austyn Marin has a team-high 38 RBIs and hits .478.
Senior Gavin Byington leads the Indians with 11 doubles and has driven in 28 runs, batting .479.
Of players with a significant amount of at-bats, sophomore Colby Tiner serves as the fourth Elko hitter with an average of .400 or better, leading the Indians with two home runs – one coming inside the park.
He pitched the Indians into the state tournament with two-earned runs on four hits over seven innings in the regional semifinal against Truckee and gave the Indians a walk-off victory over the Wolverines with his bat on an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning in the Division 3A North championship.
“Stats give a good indication of which players are good and what areas a team excels and struggles in, but stats can be thrown out the window a lot of times,” Gilligan said. “Anything can happen in a baseball game, especially in a tournament, so we have to do our best to come out prepared and focused and execute.”
Elko (22-9 overall, 21-6 against 3A North opponents) will face Pahrump Valley (19-15-1, 10-3 against 3A South clubs) in the opening round of the Division 3A Nevada State Baseball Championships at 4 p.m. Thursday at McQueen High School, the winner advancing to the state semifinal to play the victor of the 1 p.m. Thursday ballgame between South No. 1 Boulder City and North No. 2 Truckee.