Another clutch pitching performance from Zach Hansen was just enough to extend Smithfield’s season.
Hansen threw a complete game three-hitter as the Blue Sox edged the Hyrum Hornets 2-1 in a must-win Game 2 of the Northern Utah League Championships series Friday night at Richard V. Hansen Baseball Park.
The top-seeded Hornets blew out the second-seeded Blue Sox 12-2 in five innings in Thursday’s series opener. This two teams squared off for the title a year ago, and Smithfield prevailed in a thrilling winner-take-all third game.
Hansen struck out 10, walked three and plunked two. The hard-throwing right-hander gave up a Braydon Schiess double and a pair of singles.
Scott Madsen had two of Smithfield’s five hits. The Blue Sox plated the winning run in the bottom of the fourth on Rhett Nielson single to center, scoring Dax Purser.
Smithfield’s Ryder Lundahl walked and eventually scored on an error in the bottom of the third to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
Hyrum pulled even in the top of the fourth on Kelton Christensen’s RBI single to left, scoring Tadon Burbank, who walked to lead off the inning.
Lance Welch gave up two unearned runs in four and one-third innings on the mound for the Hornets. The southpaw scattered four hits, fanned four and walked one.
Ty Jones limited Smithfield to one hit and three free passes in his one and two-thirds innings on the bump. Jones had a trio of strikeouts.
With the victory, the Blue Sox improved to 4-3 this summer against the Hornets. Both teams only have six loses on the season.
There was no late-game drama Thursday in Hyrum, much to the delight of the Hornets.
The Hornets jumped out to a big lead and slammed the door on Tadon Burbank’s walk-off three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth in their 12-2 victory over the Blue Sox.
Second-seeded Smithfield will host top-seeded Hyrum in a must-win showdown Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“It was good,” Burbank said of not having to sweat it out. “Last year we were up by 10 in the first inning actually and they came back and beat us. So this year when we got up we just kept putting it on them, kept swinging the bats, hitting the fastball, and when you put the ball in play good things happen.”
This is the second straight season these talented baseball teams have squared off in the NUL championship series. The series went the distance a year ago and all three games were decided by one run. As Burbank mentioned, the Hornets stormed out to a 10-0 advantage in the winner-take-out contest in 2020, but the Blue Sox rallied for an epic 11-10 victory.
Smithfield actually took a 1-0 lead Thursday when Brock Rindlisbacher scored on a Dax Purser groundout, but Hyrum responded by putting a six-spot on the scoreboard in the home half of the first. The Hornets were patient at the plate in the opening frame as they walked five times and drew bases on balls in four straight at-bats.
“It was good,” Burbank said. “Yeah, there were no selfish at-bats tonight. Everyone was going pitch by pitch, taking the balls early, not swinging at bad pitches, being unselfish up to bat.”
Burbank smacked a RBI double to deep right field for one of Hyrum’s three hits in the first inning. Tanner Leishman came through with a two-run single for the hosts.
The Hornets strung together four base knocks in the bottom of the second and watched their lead balloon to 9-1. Jase Burbank, Jaxon Burbank and Braydon Schiess had back-to-back-to-back run-scoring hits for the hosts. Jase Burbank doubled down the left field line.
That was more than enough run support for Hyrum ace Nic Rasmussen, who went the distance on the mound. The former Bear River and Treasure Valley Community College pitcher gave up six hits, struck out five and walked four.
“I think the biggest thing was just getting out early and staying ahead,” Rasmussen said. “We’ve got guys where everybody hits from one through nine on our team, so it makes it easy for me to do my job when we’ve got guys that just hit the ball like crazy. So, it’s super relaxing for me to go out there when we’re ahead by eight.”
The Blue Sox did pare their deficit to 9-2 in the top of the third courtesy of a single by Zach Hansen through the 3-4 hole, scoring Rindlisbacher. However, Hansen was gunned out at second base by Hyrum third baseman Hayden Simper, and Rasmussen and company were able to limit the damage inflicted by the visitors.
Rasmussen did a good job mixing up his pitches Thursday, although he said much of that credit goes to catcher Tadon Burbank.
“I mean, he makes my job easy,” Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen was especially happy with how he located his curveball.
“I think for me just being able to throw curveballs for strikes when I’m behind in the count (was the key),” he said. “I’m adjusting to the new mound they put in and my fastball wasn’t there, so just being able to throw a curveball for a strike when we were down 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 (in the count) was probably the biggest thing.”
Tadon Burbank capped off a strong offensive performance with his aforementioned three-run bomb over the fence in dead center. No. 10 was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle and also chipped in with four RBIs and a trio of runs.
“I mean, it feels good to come out here and beat a team like that by 10,” Tadon Burbank said. “They’re a good, solid team. They’re good offensively and defensively, so it feels good to come out there and smack the ball around and win a game by 10.”
Leishman contributed with a pair of runs, hits and RBIs, plus he walked once for the Hornets, who got a hit, run, RBI and walk from Jaxon Burbank and Schiess. Ty Jones was plunked twice and had a sacrifice fly in his three at-bats for Hyrum, who got a pair of base knocks and runs from Jarrett Hunt.
Hansen singled twice for the Blue Sox, who stranded seven base runners — four in scoring position.