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  The Custer County Cooperative

Challis and Mackay, rivals in most sports, come together for baseball and are ready for yet another trip to the state tournament.

By: Will Hoenike
Published: 5/6/2019 10:30:38 AM
 





 
Their small, rural towns are located 54 miles apart and, thus, they don’t often practice together. They are 1A rivals in other sports. One town doesn’t even have a baseball field.

And yet, here they are. The Challis-Mackay RiverCats, one of the best 2A baseball teams in the state of Idaho, once again set to make a trip to the upcoming state tournament.

“These kids have a lot of heart and are taking full advantage of this opportunity,” head coach Ryan Millick said. “We preach having fun and making the most of the moment.”

According to IHSAA numbers, Challis has a little over 100 kids in its high school. Mackay just over 60. The combined enrollment bumps the team into the 2A classification for baseball. The cooperative agreement has been in place for five years and the RiverCats have reached the 2A state tournament each of the past three seasons.

“I tell my team all the time that if we get all nine kids hitting and continue playing solid defense, we can be right there with the best in this class,” Millick said. “But we just want to be part of it (the state tournament), so we work to put our best foot forward each at bat, each play and each game.”

Putting that best foot forward, to say the least, has been a testament to the two schools’ creative problem solving.

Neither team has a bona fide baseball field. 

The city of Challis modified a softball field at City Park for the baseball team to use and, to date, it’s the only diamond in Custer County with 90-foot basepaths. It serves as the team’s home field when it hosts games (which it did four times this season, going 4-0 by a combined score of 64-2) and has new dugouts, an electric scoreboard and a batting cage. 

Due to the distance between the towns, the players rarely practice together as a full team. The Challis players practice with Coach Millick, John Siggars and Issy Ollar at City Park while the Mackay players work with Justin Ivie and Daryn Moorman in Mackay. 

Without a field, the Mackay kids get creative for practice, taking fielding practice at the town’s park and hitting at a local rodeo arena or inside the fire station. The team is essentially on its own for travel to and from games, typically carpooling with coaches and parents and sometimes traveling up to three hours each way for games.

“We go to wherever we can play,” Millick continued. “We just want the opportunity. Some teams play us halfway, like Idaho Falls, so we can play.”

The commitment and cooperation of the kids, coaches and communities leaves many impressed.

“I feel that both communities have been extremely receptive and supportive of the program,” Challis athletic director Jennifer Piva said. “This has been a great experience and I have been glad to see it have such great success. This is due to great coaches, great kids and amazing community members coming together to make things happen.”

It’s no fluke, either. Millick has pitching. Senior Garrett Millick, junior Austin Ollar and freshman RJ Philps man the top three spots in the rotation, along with a senior catcher, Mitch Cotant, that he’d put up “against any catcher in the area.” Senior Josh Papac is swinging the bat well as well as providing good defense at first base and Millick calls freshman Jarett Ollar, “the best leadoff hitter I’ve had.” 

As you’d expect with two schools that compete against each other in everything else, there is a little chatter between the kids on the field.

“Oh yes, they rib each other over things going on at the other school, in other activities, and the like,” Millick said with a smile. “But it is all in good spirits and fun.”

The RiverCats have not allowed over four runs in a game yet this season as of May 6, posting five shutouts. Their only losses have come against Firth, a top-5 team in the 2A classification, and a one-run loss early in the season to Sugar-Salem, which is ranked in the top-5 in the 3A classification. Those three losses have come by a combined four runs. 

With two wins against Firth on May 6, Challis-Mackay secured Seed 6A to the 2A state tournament, which will be held May 16-18 in Orofino.

 
 


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