Things were looking a bit dicey for the top-seeded Hornets for a lengthy portion of their showdown against the fourth-seeded Royals, but one massive inning was all they needed to punch their ticket to a third straight Northern Utah League championship series.
Hyrum exploded for 13 runs in the top of the sixth on its way to a 17-6 victory over Logan in Game 2 of their best-of-three NUL semifinal series on Tuesday night at Worthington Park. The Hornets won Monday’s series opener by a 13-3 scoreline Monday in Hyrum. Both games were decided in six innings.
Logan pitcher Connor Crandall struck out eight and limited Logan to three hits in the first five innings, including only one from the second through fifth frames. Nevertheless, the Hornets were able to work the count deep in most of their at-bats, and the Royals replaced Crandall — — who threw 121 pitches — — with two runners on and no outs in the sixth.
The Hornets (23-4) sent 18 batters to the plate in the sixth inning and scored their 13 runs on nine hits and six free passes. The Royals (13-13) struggled to locate a couple of tricky high fly balls, which should have resulted in outs, but ultimately dropped safely to the grass.
“We’re definitely a team that can hit the ball, so it’s always frustrating when we’re not hitting the ball well,” Hyrum shortstop Tanner Leishman said. “And yeah, (Crandall) was pitching great. He was throwing a good game, but it was great to be able to finally (square up) some balls and once we get that going, we definitely keep it going.”
Hyrum’s game-changing inning was highlighted by RBI doubles from Max Nichols and Jarrett Hunt, plus two-runs singles from Jase Burbank, Hayden Simper and Nichols. Hunt crushed his two-bagger off the fence in center field.
The one Hornet who fared well against Crandall was Leishman, who smacked a lead-off double to the gap in right-center in the top of the first and belted a solo homer over the fence in center two innings later. No. 1 went 3 for 4 at the plate with four runs, two RBIs and one walk.
“I mean, Tanner’s home run, Jarrett’s double off the wall really kind of got us going, right? They were big hits,” Hyrum player/coach Jaxon Burbank said. “Credit to Crandall. He threw good tonight. We didn’t get a lot of hard hits off him to start, so we kind of had to go deep with him.”
The Royals plated three runs on two hits, highlighted by a Derek Anthony run-scoring single, and four walks in the bottom of the first to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish until the sixth. Logan’s 4-1 advantage after two innings could have been larger had it not stranded two base runners in the first and left the bases loaded in the second.
Hyrum took advantage of a couple Logan errors and scored twice to pull even at 4-4 in the fifth frame. The Hornets returned the favor with a two-out, two-run error in the home half of the fifth as the Royals retook the lead at 6-4.
Those were the only runs Hyrum gave up with Lance Welch on the mound. The southpaw entered the contest with two outs in the bottom of the second and held Logan to one hit in three and one-third innings. Welch fanned three.
“He did great,” Jaxon Burbank said. “I mean, it’s been a minute since he pitched and we were hoping to get him maybe an inning or two just to kind of save him for later in the week. He had to go a little bit deeper than we wanted, but he threw great.”
Welch’s solid pitching performance, coupled with the game-defining sixth inning, allowed the Hornets to avoid the if-necessary game and save their pitching for their much-anticipated championship series with the Smithfield Blue Sox.
“It’s huge not to go to a Game 3,” Jaxon Burbank said. “That’s obviously what we were hoping for here (with us) spreading our three pitchers out tonight. We were wanting to keep it as short as possible, but I feel like we did the best we could with how the game ended up. But we’re still pretty deep in pitching, so I think we’ll be pretty good for these next few days.”
In addition to Leishman, Hyrum’s Game 2 offensive charge was led by Nichols, who finished with two runs, three hits and three RBIs. Hunt chipped in with one run, two hits and four RBIs for the Hornets, who got three runs and four free passes from Ty Jones, two runs and one hit from Jaxon Burbank, two runs and one hit from Kelton Christensen, and two runs, one hit, two RBIs and one walk from Jase Burbank.
Gus Allred singled twice, walked once and drove in a run for the Royals, who got two runs, one hit, two walks and two stolen bases from Cole Watterson, plus a trio of free passes and one run from Joey Cortez. Logan shortstop Jagger Mitchell robbed Kelton Christensen of a run-scoring single with an spectacular diving catch for out No. 3 in the top of the fourth.
Game 1 of the championship series will take place Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Hyrum. This will be the third year in a row the Hornets and Blue Sox have squared off in the finals. Smithfield won by one run in Game 3 the previous two seasons, suggesting how evenly matched the two rivals are.
“I’m excited,” said Leishman, whose team went 2-2 against the Blue Sox during the regular season. “It will be good. They’re always a competitor, a good team and it’s always fun to play them, and it’s always good games. It will be great to run it back again, so I’m looking forward to it.”
BLUE SOX PULL AWAY
Third-seeded Smithfield (25-5) extended its winning streak to an impressive 16 games with a 14-4 six-inning triumph over second-seeded Gate City (19-7) on Tuesday evening at Richard V. Hansen Baseball Park. The Blue Sox dispatched of the Grays, 8-6, in the series opener Monday in Pocatello, Idaho.
Neither team crossed home plate in the first three innings Tuesday, but both put a four-spot on the scoreboard in the fourth frame. The Blue Sox then proceeded to plate four runs in the fifth and sixth more in the sixth to slam the door. All four of Smithfield’s runs in the fourth and fifth innings were scored with two outs.
Smithfield’s Greg Madsen, batting in the No. 9 spot, came through with a bases-clearing double to center in the fifth frame, plus he added a walk-off RBI double one inning later as part of his five-RBI performance. Rhett Nielsen contributed with three runs, two hits, one RBI and one walk for the Blue Sox, who got a pair of hits and RBIs from Brock Rindlisbacher, three runs and three walks from Chayse Oxborrow, and two runs, one hit and one free pass from Ryder Lundahl.
Stetsen Karren pitched three innings of scoreless ball for Smithfield. Karren allowed two hits and one free pass, and struck out two.