SMITHFIELD — The Blue Sox’s 18-8 mercy-rule win in six innings Thursday night to open its Northern Utah League playoff series against Gate City was far from a conventional run-rule game.
When the fifth inning rolled around at Richard V. Hansen Baseball Park, the Blue Sox were staring defeat in the face, down 8-3 to the Grays. Smithfield had spent the first three innings playing catch-up to the Grays. Gate City went up 2-0 and 3-2 with the Blue Sox tying it up on both occasions in the bottom of the inning. But then the Grays scored five in the fourth inning and the Blue Sox failed to respond initially.
With time as a growing enemy, Smithfield needed a spark from its bats. Instead of a spark, the Blue Sox spontaneously burst into a violent flame with a 10-run bottom of the fifth.
“Momentum’s a crazy thing,” Smithfield head coach Jordan Hansen said.
Zach Hansen started the instant fireworks by shooting a three-run dinger over the left field fence. That one play embodied the turning point of a game controlled by the Grays, to one eventually dominated by Smithfield. It not only cut the deficit from five to two on one swing, but it gave the rest of the squad hope.
“That (home run) put us within two and I think that got our guys believing,” coach Hansen said. “One hit led to another and next thing you know ... you look up and you’re up five. It’s just crazy.”
Zach Hansen said he went into the crucial at-bat thinking specifically that he would not swing at the first pitch — a mistake that he only escaped through an error on Gate City’s part. But when he saw the first pitch, plans changed.
“(The pitcher) gave me a fastball right down the middle,” the younger Hansen said, “and I just reacted, turned on it, felt really good.”
Following that game-changing homer from Hansen, the Blue Sox got eight of nine batters on base. The first of those, Tyler Walters, got to his destination safely because of an overthrow at first — a small error that likely impacted the contest as much as Hansen’s home run.
Smithfield found itself so successful at the plate that Hansen made a second appearance in the fifth. He hit a two-RBI single, driving in the eighth and ninth runs of the inning.
With all of the hits, the Grays backpedaled frantically on the mound. Connor Gibson had a solid night before the fifth inning with three strikeouts, only one walk and two earned runs allowed. Just an inning and a half later, Gate City had made three pitching changes in a vain attempt to corral Smithfield’s red-hot hitting.
Overall, the Blue Sox had 14 hits spread across five players, and Hansen finished with the best numbers overall, making it safely on base on all five plate appearances with three hits and five RBIs. Rhett Nielson also had himself a day with four RBIs on three hits of his own, including a solo shot over the fence in the third inning. Nielson also led the team by making it home four times on the night.
Chris Caldera hit a pair of doubles, scored three times and drove in two runs for the Blue Sox.
Rallying to win has its own rewards, but having it come in Game 1 of a playoff series added more meaning.
“We knew we needed to get game one, especially at home,” coach Hansen said. “It’s super hard to win in Pocatello.”
KC Qualls smacked a grand slam and finished with five RBIs for Gate City, which hosts Smithfield on Friday night in a must-win game.
WOLVERINES 11, HORNETS 4
Providence plated four runs in the third inning and four more in the fifth to seize control against visiting Hyrum in the NUL Tournament. The Hornets will try to keep their season alive in the best-of-three series Friday night at home.
The Wolverines took advantage of a slew of walks in the bottom of the third to take a 5-3 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Providence walked six times in the frame and scored all four of its runs with two outs.
That trend continued in the bottom of the fifth as the Wolverines once again scored all four of their runs with two outs. Providence plated those runs on three hits, three walks and a hit batsman.
Braxton Jensen doubled, singled, walked twice and crossed home plate twice for Providence. Cooper Kunz, Jake Anderson and Shawn Triplett each drove in a pair of runs for the Wolverines, who had seven different players finish with a RBI. Additionally, Anderson and Triplett singled twice apiece.
Ty Jones smacked a solo homer over the fence in right in the top of the first for the Hornets, who scored one run in each of the first three frames. Jones also singled and scored twice in the contest. Brantzen Noble and Ptolian Takis chipped in with two base knocks each for Hyrum. Both of Noble’s hits were doubles.
The Wolverines, the NUL regular season champions, walked 11 times in the game.
HJ sports writer Jason Turner contributed to this report