SMITHFIELD — Dax Purser’s freshman year of baseball at Salt Lake Community College was a solid one as he struck out 15 batters and limited opponents to a .207 batting average in 17.1 innings on the mound.
Indeed, the former Ridgeline star was a valuable member of SLCC’s bullpen, but he never got a chance to showcase his skills at a hitter. Purser singled in his only at-bat for the Bruins, who went 33-17 this past spring, including 24-8 in conference play.
Purser has been making up for lost time at the plate this summer as the designated hitter for the Smithfield Blue Sox. No. 15 homered twice, singled and drove in four runs to help propel Smithfield to a 12-5 victory over the Providence Wolverines in a Northern Utah League tilt on Tuesday night at Richard V. Hansen Baseball Park.
“It feels good,” said Purser, who was a monster at the plate during his final American Legion season as he batted .490 and drove in 45 runs in 31 games. “You know, that’s what I come up here for is to swing the bat, so it feels good to come up here and get some swings in.”
Purser connected on a towering solo shot over the right field fence in the bottom of the first, and then laced the first pitch he saw in the fifth frame over the fence in right-center for a two-run jack. The left-hander also roped a RBI single to right as part of Smithfield’s four-run sixth inning.
It was a little bit of a slow start offensively for the Blue Sox, but they found their groove from the third inning on. Smithfield scored twice in the third, once in the fourth and four times in the fifth and sixth frames to put the Wolverines in a hole they were unable to dig out of.
It was a total team effort as all nine Smithfield batters contributed with a run, hit or RBI. It was the momentum boost the Blue Sox were hoping for heading into a busy rest of the week. Smithfield will travel to Logan for a Wednesday showdown with the Royals, and then will welcome the Salt Lake Buzz to Hansen Park for a Friday doubleheader.
“It’s good to get some rhythm going,” Purser said. “We’ve had a tough time this year stringing together hits, so it was good to finally string some together and get into a rhythm (hopefully) for the rest of the week.”
Although they ultimately won by seven runs, the Blue Sox didn’t take control until the latter innings. In fact, Providence took a 5-4 lead in the top of the fifth on a RBI single by Braxton Pond.
However, the Blue Sox bounced back with four runs on two hits and five walks in the home half of the fifth to seize the momentum for good. Two straight walks with the bases loaded allowed the hosts to take a multi-run advantage.
Smithfield then proceeded to score four runs on four hits, a trio of free passes and two sacrifice flies in the bottom of the sixth to slam the door. Back-to-back-to-back singles by Rhett Nielsen, Zach Hansen and Purser to lead off the inning set the stage for the Blue Sox.
Brock Rindlisbacher, Gabe Passey and Nielsen each contributed with two hits for Smithfield, which finished with 12 base knocks. Passey also chipped in with a pair of runs and stolen bases, plus made an outstanding defensive play to rob Bryson Siddoway of a hit in the fifth inning. The shortstop backhanded Siddoway’s hard grounder and made the throw from his knees to first base for the out.
“It gets you really energized when a guy makes that kind of play,” Purser said. “You know, it’s a tough play and it you get an out off that, it’s huge. Especially being a pitcher, you get a lot of energy off of (a play like) that.”
Dawson Barson came through with two RBIs, one hit and one run for the Blue Sox, who got one hit, one run and two walks from Braden Anderson, two runs and a hit from Zach Hansen, two RBIs from Jordan Hansen and two runs from Greg Madsen.
Ethan Wilson pitched the final four innings for the Blue Sox and retired the side in three of them. The southpaw gave up four hits in the top of the fifth, but bounced back by striking out four of the final six batters he faced.
“I just took a deep breath, relaxed ... and said, ‘let’s get rolling,’ so I just got in my groove and kept rolling,” Wilson said. “Obviously, I had a good defense behind me too, so I just threw strikes, challenged hitters and went from there.”
Dillon Haslam, Alex Atkinson and Austin “Otter” Pond finished with two hits apiece for the Wolverines. Atkinson and Pond both scored twice, and Pond also drove in a run. Haslam had a pair of RBI singles, plus excelled defensively from his catcher position. The former Preston standout chased down a couple of foul balls, plus knocked down a handful of pitches in the dirt that would have resulted in Smithfield runs had they made there way to the backstop.