HYRUM — It was a two-out rally that, quite frankly, could have been a minor one.
St. George’s Tristan Bird laced a Zack Bradfield offering to the gap in right-center, but Blacksmith Fork right fielder Trey Burbank made a good read on the ball. Unfortunately for the Trappers, Burbank’s attempt at a spectacular diving catch was a fraction off the mark and Bird’s double cleared the bases, giving the Sentinels a 8-5 lead in the bottom of the fifth.
St. George tacked on three more runs in the inning and three more in the sixth to pull away for a 14-5 victory over the Trappers in the U19 American Legion state championship game on Thursday at The Yard. The Sentinels won five straight elimination contests over the course of three days, including a 7-3 Thursday triumph over the Trappers to force a true championship game.
“The score doesn’t show how close (this game) was,” Blacksmith Fork head coach Trace Hansen said. “It was a really good game and, I mean, we battled against a team (that has players from) seven schools, and it was awesome to see our guys battle this whole week. I mean, it was a great week of baseball for our guys. It just showed us how good of a team we can be and I’m really proud of our guys.”
Indeed, it was a very encouraging week and summer for Mountain Crest’s American Legion program. The Trappers (14-9) handed the Sentinels (19-9) their only loss of the tournament and also knocked top-seeded Helper out of the winner’s bracket.
“It was huge, confidence wise and experience wise,” Hansen said. “I mean, we got closer as a team this week and some guys stepped up in spots they’ve never been before, and I think that’s going to really help us when it comes down to (high school) state tournament time next year. This last spring we didn’t have any experience, really, as far as state tournament wise, so this was really valuable going into next year.”
Blacksmith Fork took a lead into the fifth inning in both Thursday games. To their credit, the Sentinels always had answer from an offensive, defensive and pitching standpoint.
St. George jumped out to a 3-0 lead in Game 2 by impressively stringing together five hits in the bottom of the first. To his credit, Bradfield settled down and held the hard-hitting Sentinels to zero hits and runs over the next three frames.
The Trappers manufactured one run in the top of the second and caught fire at the plate in the third frame as they plated four runs on five base knocks to take a 5-3 advantage. Andrew Nielsen, Rilee Maddock, Brooks Bell and Maxwell Hornsby all came through with run-scoring singles for the designated visitors.
Blacksmith Fork was able to chase starting pitcher GJ Erickson from the game, but Gavin Hadley was up to the challenge in relief. Hadley limited the Trappers to three hits and one walk over the final four and two-thirds innings.
The Sentinels then proceeded to take over with their 11-run explosion in the fifth and sixth frames, turning a nailbiter into a blowout. In addition to Bird’s aforementioned three-run double, those two innings were highlighted by two-run homers by Hadley and Brandon Roundy, plus a run-scoring double off the fence by Jayz Estridge.
Bird contributed with a pair of doubles and four RBIs in Game 2 for the Sentinels, who got three runs and a pair of hits and RBIs from Roundy, a pair of runs, hits and RBIs from Estridge, three hits, three RBIs and two runs from Hadley, and two runs and two hits from Ian Becker.
Maddock went 2 for 2 with one walk, two runs and a RBI for the Trappers, who got a pair of RBIs from Hornsby, plus a hit, run and RBI from Nielsen. Nielsen was selected as the Offensive MVP of the eight-team tournament. The soon-to-be senior homered in three of Blacksmith Fork’s five games.
“It’s been awesome to see him come back (determined) from his injury and not only pitching wise, of course,” Hansen said of Nielsen. “He’s one of our main (pitchers), but offensively and defensively he’s a huge, huge asset for us. And it’s just awesome to see how he’s bought in and really become a leader on his team. He’s really a guy that people look up to and look for guidance from, and it’s good to see him kind of grow up in that way the last couple of years.”
The lion’s share of Game 1 of was a pitcher’s duel between Blacksmith Fork’s Rylin Needham and St. George’s Brock Roundy. Needham, a soon-to-be sophomore, held the Sentinels scoreless in the first four frames and was unlucky not to get out of a jam in the top of the fifth.
Needham walked three of the first four batters in the inning, but came through with two timely strikeouts and induced a ground ball that would have been the final out of the inning. Unfortunately for the Trappers, standout shortstop Kaden Deeter slipped after fielding the grounder and the Sentinels scored twice on his errant throw to second. St. George plated a third run in the inning on a double steal. Instead of taking a 1-0 lead into the sixth inning, the Trappers faced a 3-1 deficit.
“That was unfortunate, an unfortunate play,” Hansen said. “It was just one of those (situations where) the bounces went their way, and then it’s hard to come back from a big play like that. And Deeter, he’s an awesome player and it was just an unfortunate break that way. ... With the type of kid that Deeter is, that’s not going to affect him moving forward and he’s going to learn from that, and he’s going to be awesome.”
Needham, playing primarily against athletes three years older than him, held the Sentinels to three unearned runs in five complete innings. No. 27 allowed two hits, struck out six and walked seven.
“Really, the sky’s the limit for him,” Hansen said of Needham. “He is a very, very good pitcher and he’s very, very raw, though. He has a lot of room to grow and he knows that and he wants to do that, and it’s exciting. It’s exciting to have a guy of that caliber that wants to work. ... He’s only going to continue to grow because that’s the type of kid he is.”
Roundy went the distance on the bump for the Sentinels, scattered seven hits, struck out seven and plunked one. The recent Pine View graduate threw 74 of his 92 pitches for strikes.
St. George scored three more runs in the top of the sixth to take control. Both teams finished with seven hits, but St. George was able to ultimately pull away by walking eight times and stealing eight bases.
The Trappers scored their first run on a Luke Palmer sacrifice fly in the bottom of the first. Nielsen deposited a Roundy offering over the fence in left for a solo homer in the sixth inning, and Blacksmith Fork scored again in the seventh courtesy of a sacrifice fly by Burbank.
Brok Buttars singled twice for the Trappers, as did Jake Sanderson for the Sentinels. Tournament MVP Sam Johanson, a soon-to-be Hurricane senior, went 3 for 5 with a double and two RBIs for St. George. St. George’s Canyon Kutch, a catcher with a very strong arm who started for 4A state champion Crimson Cliffs, was selected as the Defensive MVP.
St. George will compete in the AA regional tournament next week in California, while Blacksmith Fork will prepare for the 2023 high school season.
“I’m proud of how they’ve conducted themselves on and off the field and how hungry they are,” Hansen said of his squad. “And that’s one thing I’m really looking forward to moving on in the future, so they’re a hungry group that wants to be pushed and I’m excited about how hard they want to be pushed.”