HYRUM — It was the kind of nailbiter you would expect between two baseball teams that have won 18 of their last 20 American Legion games combined.
In the end, it was the little things that ultimately made the difference for the team comprised entirely of recent Ridgeline and Mountain Crest graduates.
Cache Valley scored runs on a double steal and a pitch in the dirt, and that loomed large in its hard-fought 4-3 victory over Blacksmith Fork in the winner's bracket of the Utah U19 Legion State Championships on Saturday at The Yard.
"Lance (Welch) threw it really well today (for Blacksmith Fork) and I feel like we didn't get a lot of barrels on balls today, so we had to win with the little things and keep playing heads-up baseball, and that's how we won," Cache Valley third baseman Hayden Simper said. "It was a great game."
With the win, the top-seeded Sox advanced to the semifinals of the winner's bracket, and will face No. 4 Herriman on Monday at 5:30 p.m. at Pleasant Grove High School. No. 9 Blacksmith Fork will square off against No. 3 Lone Peak in an elimination game on Monday at 12:30 p.m. at the same venue.
Saturday's showdown was a lot different than the last time the Sox and Trappers played each other. Cache Valley swept Mountain Crest's legion program in a doubleheader by scores of 11-2 and 16-0 on July 7.
However, the Trappers have been red hot since those two setbacks, plus standout pitcher Lance Welch didn't take the mound in either of those games. As a result, Cache Valley coach Alex Hansen was expecting a much different Blacksmith Fork squad this time around.
"We knew going in it would (be a tough game) and if you'd expect anything different, you're kidding yourself," Hansen said. "At this stage in the state tournament, every team's good and have great (pitching) arms. I mean, teams are here for a reason and, yeah, the Trappers have been hot, and we knew we had to come out and try to prepare our boys for a dogfight. That's exactly what we talked about."
What has been the biggest key to Blacksmith Fork's late-season surge?
"We didn't (really) have our high school season and we replaced eight seniors that graduated, so these guys have been coming up through the system but haven't really had that varsity time," BF coach Stephen Hansen said. "And I think it took us about a month to really understand what this level of baseball is, and I believe we're starting to find that out and, as a result, we're playing better."
It was a scoreless contest until the Sox (25-2 against legion opponents) plated two runs on three hits and a walk in the bottom of the third. Cooper Murphy scored on a Daxton Purser single, and Simper stole home for the second run. Purser did a good job of staying in a rundown long enough to allow the speedy Simper to cross home plate.
To their credit, the Trappers (17-12) were undaunted as they immediately bounced back by putting a three-spot on the scoreboard in the top of the fourth. Back-to-back singles by Caden Jones and Lance Welch set the tone, and a grounder by Jaden Jones resulted in a pair of runs — instead of one — thanks to a Cache Valley throwing error. Blacksmith Fork then took a 3-2 advantage on a well-executed sacrifice bunt by Miles Hancock.
Unfortunately for the Trappers, their lead didn't last long. That's because the Sox responded with a pair of runs in the home half of the fourth, and they ended up being the final runs of the contest.
Tadon Burbank laced a RBI double to deep left-center to pull Cache Valley even at 3-3. Burbank ended up scoring with two outs on a pitch in the dirt.
"We did give them two runs without them hitting the ball and that's the one thing we stress is we can't give runs up without the other team earning them, and we did that twice," Stephen Hansen said. "But other than that, we played a great ballgame. Lance pitched well, we played good defense, we hit the ball well. It was a well-played baseball game and, as a team, we got better today."
Indeed, the Trappers played extremely well defensively as they didn't commit any errors and turned a pair of double plays early in the game.
The Sox only had the one defensive miscue and a huge defensive play by left fielder Dane Folkman made a big difference. Blacksmith Fork's Dax Roundy was narrowly gunned out by Folkman at second base while trying to stretch a single into a double in the top of the sixth. Roundy was the lead-off batter in that inning and would have stood a good chance of scoring.
Cache Valley ace Caleb Archibald retired the side in the top of the seventh in another clutch, complete-game pitching performance. Archibald allowed six hits, struck out 11 and issued three free passes.
"I talked to him after the sixth inning," Alex Hansen said of Archibald. "He was sitting at 95 pitches and he's got 10 pitches left (before the single-game limit) and we had a guy warmed up, ready to go, but he wanted the ball. He says 'I'll get the job done, put me back out there.' And I love that as coach and, obviously, the results ended up good."
Welch pitched all six innings for Blacksmith Fork and limited a potent Cache Valley lineup to five hits. The southpaw fanned six, walked four and plunked one. He held the Sox hitless in three innings.
Roundy singled twice for the Trappers, while Kolmyn Foulger belted a double to the fence in left. Purser singled twice for the Sox, while Simper and Kade Hansen both walked twice.
What was it like for Simper to play against his former teammates, especially in a game of this magnitude?
"It's crazy," Simper said. "I mean, it feels like I should be playing here still with all of my buddies and all my old coaches and everyone I went to high school with. But it's always good to come out and beat (these guys). I mean, I respect all of those guys, love all of those guys, but at the end of the day you've got to focus on winning."
BRAVES 8, GRIZZLIES 6
No. 10 Bountiful scored four times in the bottom of the sixth to rally past No. 15 Logan in a winner's bracket game on Saturday at Pleasant Grove. The Grizzlies (14-9) will now face No. 5 Stansbury in an elimination contest on Monday at 12:30 p.m. at Juan Diego High School.
Logan scored five of its runs in the top of the fourth.
Kellen Roper had three of the Grizzlies' five hits and three of their six RBIs. Vincent Rohrer singled twice, scored a run and drove in another for Logan, while Jack Fjeldsted contributed with a pair of runs and walks and a RBI.
Ethan Wilson was rock solid on the mound through five innings for the Grizzlies.