HYRUM — Zach Hansen grew up cheering for the Smithfield Blue Sox and chomping at the bit to eventually play for them, so when he helped propel the baseball team to a Northern Utah League title during the summer of 2020, it was extremely gratifying
Sharing that same experience with his younger brother a year later? Well, that was priceless for the former Sky View star.
Hansen belted a grand slam in the first inning, younger brother Reese came in as a relief pitcher and limited a potent opposing lineup to one unearned run and Smithfield earned a thrilling 7-6 victory over the Hyrum Hornets in the third and decisive game of the NUL championship series in front of a large crowd on Saturday night.
"It's awesome. I'm so proud of that kid," said an emotional Zach when asked about his brother. "As a big brother, there's nothing you want better than to see your little brother succeed in a situation like that. ... It was pretty awesome to be on the field with him."
Younger brother echoed those same sentiments.
"It's so special," Reese Hansen said. "I wouldn't have wanted to win it with anyone else, and it's just always fun. This is my first year playing with him and I'm looking forward to more."
This is the second straight season these two talented teams have squared off for an NUL title, and last summer's decisive third game was also decided by a single run. In fact, five of the six championship series showdowns between Smithfield and Hyrum were decided by one run.
"It's a lot of fun," Zach Hansen said. "I mean, they've been competitive and they've built something here in Hyrum that hasn't been here for a long time. And credit to them. They've played so well and we've just been able to come out on top, but it's been a great rivalry. I mean, those guys are some great guys over there and much respect to them. It's always a pleasure to play them."
Zach Hansen has certainly been a thorn in Hyrum's side during Smithfield's back-to-back championship runs. In last year's decisive third game, No. 7 took the bump with his team trailing 10-0 and pitched six scoreless innings. The Blue Sox rallied for a wild 11-10 win. Smithfield needed to prevail Friday to force Saturday's winner-take-all game, and Zach came through with a complete-game three-hitter on the mound. The right-hander struck out 10 in Smithfield's 2-1 triumph on Game 2 of the series.
Zach also contributed with a complete-game pitching performance in Monday's 3-1 victory over Gate City in Game 1 of their semifinal series. No. 7 threw 228 pitches this week for the Blue Sox.
"I was over 200 pitches by the end of that game last night for the week because I threw Monday and so I was just trying to endure and just trying to help get us here so that we could give ourselves a chance to win," said Zach, who has spent the past two seasons pitching at Dixie State University. "And I was able to do that and I couldn't have done it without my teammates. It's a family here. We've been playing with each other for a lot of years and we do it for each other."
Zach and company got off to an outstanding start Saturday as the Blue Sox (24-6) plated four runs on five hits --- one could debate there was a sixth, as Jordan Hansen's grounder to Hyrum shortstop Tanner Leishman took a tricky hop --- in the top of the first. Zach deposited a pitch well over the fence in left for a grand slam.
To his credit, Hyrum ace Nic Rasmussen settled down and held Smithfield to one run on two base knocks in the next two innings. Rasmussen pitched all five innings in the Hornets' 12-2 victory over the Blue Sox in Thursday's Game 1.
Top-seeded Hyrum (23-7) bounced back from a shaky Saturday start by plating two runs on four hits in the bottom of the first. Leishman, the lead-off batter, took the first pitch he saw from Cody Godfrey and smacked it over the fence in left-center. Jarrett Hunt immediately followed with a double, and eventually scored on a Jaxon Burbank single.
The Hornets pared their deficit to 4-3 in the second inning, gave up a run one inning later and pulled even at 5-5 in the bottom of the fourth. Tadon Burbank and Ty Jones came through with back-to-back RBI singles for the hosts.
Those were the first two hits Reese Hansen allowed after entering the contest with two outs.
"When I came in that fourth inning, I was a little stressed because I had guys on first and second already, and then they got those two runs and it was just like, 'gosh dang,'" said the recent Green Canyon graduate. "But all I could do is keep on battling and get through it, and it's so much fun to be here right now."
The Hornets then proceeded to take their only lead of the game with a run in the fifth frame. A Smithfield error extended the inning and Leishman capitalized with a run-scoring single in the 3-4 hole.
The second-seeded Blue Sox knotted things up at 6-6 in the top of the sixth on a RBI single by Rhett Nielson in the 5-6 hole. Smithfield plated what turned out to be the winning run an inning later on Brock Rindlisbacher's sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Gabe Passey.
Reese struck out three of the four batters he faced in the bottom of the sixth and got the job done after giving up a lead-off single to Kelton Christensen in the seventh. The game ended on a soft liner that Passey, the shortstop, alertly allowed to hit the dirt, then he picked it up, put his foot on second base and fired to Zach, the first baseman, for a double play.
"I knew I had to bear down and just throw my hardest and hit my spots," Reese said. "I knew I couldn't leave them down the middle because they're a good hitting ball club, so I just had to battle through it and trust my defense behind me."
Both teams hit the ball well as the Hornets finished with 13 base knocks and the Blue Sox 12. Rindlisbacher, Nielson and Ryder Lundahl doubled for Smithfield, while Jaxon Burbank and Hunt had two-baggers for Hyrum.
Dax Purser and Nielson each went 3 for 4 at the plate for Smithfield, as did Hyrum's Leishman and Jones. Leishman also contributed with a pair of runs and RBIs, plus was outstanding from his shortstop position. Lundahl had a pair of hits for the Blue Sox, while Jaxon Burbank and Hunt chipped in with two base knocks apiece for the Hornets.
Recent Mountain Crest graduate Braydon Schiess was solid in relief for Hyrum. No. 16 pitched four complete for the hosts, allowed two runs on four hits and three walks, and fanned three.
Indeed, it was another entertaining nailbiter between two very evenly matched rivals.