PROVIDENCE — The Blue Sox didn’t need a stunning late-game rally this time around.
Smithfield scored four runs in the third inning and fourth more in the seventh to pull away for a 10-2 victory over Providence on Thursday night at Max L. Johnson Memorial Field. As a result, the top-seeded Blue Sox were able to sweep their best-of-three series against the fourth-seeded Wolverines and advance to the championship series of the Northern Utah League Tournament.
Smithfield (27-5) trailed 6-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth and 10-7 with two outs in the seventh and final frame before rallying for a wild 11-10 win over Providence (14-12) on Wednesday night at Richard V. Hansen Baseball Park. Rhett Nielson came through with a two-run walk-off single in Wednesday’s showdown between the two long-standing rivals.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Nielson, who went 3 for 4 at the plate with a pair of doubles, five RBIs, one run and a walk in Game 1 of the series. “This is a good group of guys to play with. All year we’ve been able to compete all seven innings, or even when we have a little bit of bonus baseball, so it’s worked out well.”
Nielson continued to shine offensively in Game 2 as he homered, singled, walked twice, drove in two runs and scored two himself. Providence pitcher Spenser Triplett came out throwing smoke Thursday as he struck out Smithfield’s first two batters, but Nielson got the visitors going with his towering solo shot over the fence in left-center.
“I’ve been seeing the ball well lately and it was nice to barrel a few balls up when we had guys on base,” Nielson said.”
The Wolverines answered with a run in the home half of the first as former Sky View and Cal State Fullerton star Mitch Berryhill crossed home plate on a groundout by Jack Burr.
Smithfield took a lead it wouldn’t relinquish by plating four runs on five hits in the third frame. Back-to-back-to-back run-scoring doubles by Nielson and Zach Hansen set the tone, and Daxton Purser punctuated the inning by roping a RBI single to the fence in right-center.
Providence pared its deficit to 5-2 in the bottom of the third on a single by Triplett, who laced a double to deep left-center later in the game. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, that is as close as they got.
Purser lined a RBI single to center field in the top of the sixth to give the Blue Sox a 6-2 advantage, and the visitors manufactured four runs on one hit and four free passes to slam the door one inning later. That one base knock was by Jordan Hansen, who smacked a lead-off double to the gap in left-center.
Purser was rock solid as Smithfield’s starting pitcher as he scattered eight hits in six-plus innings, struck out seven, plunked three and walked one. Wyatt Barrus retired all three batters he faced in the final inning for the Blue Sox.
Purser certainly aided his cause at the plate by singling twice, walking and contributing with three RBIs. It’s been a phenomenal summer for the recent Ridgeline graduate, who played extremely well during the American Legion season for the Cache Valley Sox.
“Yeah, it’s been way fun,” Purser said. “Just being able to go to the next level (with your play) really (invigorates) you when you get out there, and just being able to know that I can compete out there feels great.
As well as Purser performed on the mound, he received plenty of help from his teammates. The Blue Sox turned a pair of doubles plays — the first one with Providence runners on second and third with one out — shortshop Tyler Walters made an outstanding play in the bottom of the sixth and catcher Braden Anderson gunned out a runner at first in the third frame.
“Knowing that you have all of those guys behind your back that are going to make plays like that, it just makes things a lot easier,” Purser said. “You just relax and focus on doing what you do best. That’s a great defense behind me.”
Jordan Hansen chipped in with two hits, two runs and one RBI for the Blue Sox, who will square off against the second-seeded Hyrum in a three-game series for the NUL title, starting Saturday night at 7:30 in Smithfield. The Hornets (18-10 swept a pair of games from the third-seeded Logan Royals — 3-0 on Wednesday and 9-4 on Thursday.
Berryhill, an All-American his final season at Cal State Fullerton, went 3 for 4 for the Wolverines, who got a pair of hits from Triplett (single and double) and Braxton Pond (single and double). Triplett pitched the full seven innings for Providence, gave up 10 hits and fanned nine.
Triplett, who exhibited good sportsmanship after the game, fared well as a relief pitcher in a coronovirus-shortened season this past spring at Utah Valley University. As a senior for the Wolverines, Triplett struck out 12 in 10 complete innings, posted a 4.50 ERA and went 1-0 on the bump. For his efforts, the Providence native was selected as the university’s co-Male Walk-on of the Year for the 2019-20 academic year.