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Coaching legend comes out of retirement to lead first-year Owyhee program to Idaho baseball state title

“The magic is in the kids,” Owyhee coach Russ Wright said.
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CALDWELL - Russ Wright thought he was done with coaching.

The Owyhee High School baseball coach turned in his resignation letter three years ago at Fruitland where he built a dynasty as part of his 34 years in the business.

It turned out the old-timer still had at least one more left in him.

Wright did the improbable by guiding the first-year program to a state title following a 6-0 shutout of perennial power Rocky Mountain in the Idaho Class 5A State Championship Saturday at College of Idaho’s Wolfe Field.

“He put Owyhee on the map,” senior Drayton Black said. “At Fruitland, he had a good record behind him, but for him to come over here and do it in one year, just remarkable.”

That record included eight state championships at Fruitland. Wright won all of those during a 10-year stretch, including a four-peat from 2014-17. But Wright gave that all up to get into administration. He was named Fruitland’s athletic director a few months after coaching in what seemed like his final game - an 8-4 loss to Weiser at districts on May 9, 2019.

None of it felt right to him, though. Still, Wright hesitated to apply for the head coaching position at West Ada’s newest high school.

“Honestly, I didn’t know if they would hire a 59-year-old coach,” Wright said.

But his wife Andrea wouldn’t accept that for an answer.

“She said you’re not as happy as you were when I watched you coach,” said Wright, who still lives in Fruitland. “So, I mean, this is her fault.”

And now he has nine rings.

“The magic is in the kids,” Wright said. “They’re the ones that make choices. They’re the ones that make decisions about how hard they want to go, how hard they want to be coached.

“... For them to all come together and do that in their first year, that’s unbelievable.”

To say the least.

The Storm were picked eighth out of 12 teams in the Southern Idaho Conference preseason coaches’ poll.

And with good reason.

Only one player on the roster - junior Cole Rohlmeier, who chose to come over from Rocky Mountain - had any real varsity experience. Black was also the only senior on the team.

But none of that mattered to anyone in that clubhouse.

(All photos by Loren Orr)

“We didn’t have any expectations,” said Black who decided to leave favorite Mountain View and take a chance on a new program. “We had nothing to lose. So we came out here and just gave it all we had. All you’ve got to do is believe, and we believed.”

That belief never wavered too. Even through a 1-2 start where it lost by a combined score of 20-1, including being no-hit by Kuna, a four-game slide in the middle of the season and Rohlmeier going down for a month with a hairline fracture in his wrist after being hit by a ball against Skyview.

The Storm (20-9) responded by winning 10 of their final 11 games, including Saturday.

After trailing in its previous two state playoff games, Owyhee left little doubt this time.

It jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third inning when Rohlmeier stole home on a wild pitch and then junior Jack Ryan came in on a fielding error. It stayed that way for the next three innings thanks to the stellar pitching of Black, who fired a two-hit shutout in five innings.

Owyhee added four insurance runs in the seventh thanks to a pair of fielding errors and a two-run RBI single to right field by junior Nick McDaniel. Ryan then slammed the door shut on the second-seeded Grizzlies (22-7) with a strikeout of All-SIC first-team player Conor Christiansen to end it.

Ryan pumped his fist and tossed his glove to the heavens above before being dog piled on as the Storm celebrated becoming the third first-year program to win a state title over the last 23 years. They joined Timberline (1999) and Columbia (2007).

The championship is also the fourth the school has had this year alone. The boys basketball team won districts and state, softball took districts last week before a runner-up finish at state Saturday and now the baseball team.

“This is just the beginning,” Rohlmeier said. “Next year, everyone better watch out. We might go back-to-back.”


BISHOP KELLY 15, TWIN FALLS 0, 5 INNINGS: The Knights (25-4) invoked the 10-run mercy rule to win back-to-back state titles and the sixth since 1995.

Colin Dempsey allowed just six hits and fanned six in a complete-game shutout.


MARSH VALLEY 14, FRUITLAND 4: The Eagles (22-4) also forced the mercy rule into effect to win the second state championship in program history and the first since 2019.

Dylan Driessen was 2-for-3 from the plate, including an inside-the-park home run, with three RBIs.


NAMPA CHRISTIAN 8, FIRTH 0: The Trojans (28-2) went back-to-back and captured their 12th state championship in program history.

Landon Cheney tossed a complete game 2-hitter with 14 strikeouts


TROY 4, GENESEE 3: The Trojans (15-6) edged their Whitepine League rival and the reigning state champs to win it all after not even making state the last eight seasons.

Dominic Holden gave up just five hits on the mound while driving in a run in the win.