The game was set. It was basically over. Snow Canyon held a 4-0 lead and carried all the momentum.
But Desert Hills had come too far to accept defeat now. Instead of retreating quietly into the night, perhaps to battle back in the one-loss bracket, the Thunder opted to fight.
Desert Hills scored four runs to send the game into extra innings before Braiden Irvin stepped to the plate in the eighth frame and sent teammate Ty Rutledge around third base for the tie-breaking run. The Thunder suddenly held a 5-4 lead. Now they needed to hang on.
Kaleb Caplin, who pitched all eight frames, retired all three batters he faced in the eighth, sewing up Desert Hills’ biggest win to date.
Desert Hills, which has yet to lose a game to a Region 9 team this season in 13 tries, secured its first ever 3A State Baseball Championship berth. The Thunder will face the winner of the Snow Canyon-Spanish Fork game (9 a.m. start) at approximately 11 a.m. at Utah Valley University.
“That was high school baseball at its best,” Desert Hills coach Jerry Beck said. “I couldn’t be more proud of my guys. … They haven’t been down much this year, so we haven’t been tested much that way, so to see them respond like that was unbelievable.”
The game wasn’t without controversy.
In the eighth, Rutledge hit a grounder to shortstop that was thrown to first base. Chandler Day snagged the ball, reached out and tagged Rutledge as the Thunder star made contact with the base.
The umpire made the call. Safe.
Snow Canyon coach Reed Secrist was irate. He argued with both umpires for some time, explaining that his first baseman made the tag out.
“I just asked the ump if (Day) had tagged him. Somehow the communication from me asking the umpire to ask the home plate umpire if he tagged him ended up with him asking if (Day) came off the bag,” Secrist said. “I saw him come off the bag. I was asking if he tagged him.”
The umpire refused to listen to Secrist’s pleas.
“He told me, ‘I’m not gonna ask that,'” the Snow Canyon coach continued. “How do you not ask that in this game?”
Beck offered a different perspective.
“The throw was off a little bit and the first baseman made a swipe at him,” he said. “From our angle it looked like he didn’t get him. It was a clean play.”
In any case, the outcome teetered in Desert Hills’ favor. Rutledge made it to second on a Carson Clement sacrifice, and then slid to home plate when Irvin’s line drive to shortstop was bobbled by Brogan Secrist.
“(Third-base) coach (Jeramie) Ybright sent me to home on a ball that I honestly don’t know what happened to,” Rutledge said. “It was hit and I was going with two outs. I figured he was going to hold me up. He just waved me so I thought I was gonna score easy, but everyone told me ‘Get down!'”
Added Irvin: “I hit it and thought it was going to get through but Brogan got there in time. I thought it was going to be an out, but he didn’t make an attempt. I guess he just mishandled it.”
The run capped off a stunning come-from behind victory that started in the fifth.
Trailing 4-0, courtesy of a big fourth inning from Snow Canyon featuring a base-clearing triple by Brady Sargent, Desert Hills loaded the bases with three-straight walks against pitcher Brogan Secrist. Secrist was lifted for Clint Gates, but that didn’t stop the bleeding.
Baiden Powell struck an RBI single, Caplin followed with a sacrifice fly and Dylan File hit a long single to send in another to make it 4-3.
In the seventh, Gates was relieved by his cousin Riley. The Snow Canyon ace, who had pitched a complete game just 24 hours earlier, gave up a single to Powell, then hit Caplin with a pitch. Bryce Gibson’s looper to center brought home the tying run.
Caplin held strong on the mound for Desert Hills in the seventh, then again in the bottom half of the eighth inning after his team had miraculously pulled ahead.
“Me and Coach Beck have been together for four years,” Caplin said. “We have this thing when I’m pitching. We look at each other and I nod if I’m ready. If I don’t nod he takes me out. I really wanted this.”
Beck was proud of his starting pitcher.
“That’s one of the gutsiest performances I’ve seen out of a high school kid,” he said.
In addition to beating Spanish Fork this morning, Snow Canyon would have to defeat Desert Hills twice to claim the title. It’s a feat Coach Secrist felt wasn’t beyond his team.
“I talked to them a little about my 2007 team that won all three on Saturday (and beat Dixie for the state title),” he said. “I think this team can do it.”
Flyers’ one-loss bracket odyssey ends
After taking a 4-3 lead in the fourth inning, Dixie gave up six runs in the sixth and then watched its season come to a screeching halt in a 9-4 defeat against Spanish Fork.
Dixie had dropped to the one-loss bracket after losing to Carbon, but fought back to win three-straight games, including an 8-4 victory over Canyon View earlier Friday afternoon, to keep its season alive.
In the end, the Flyers just couldn’t keep the Dons off the scoreboard, giving up 12 hits while producing just five.
“We had an expectation and a goal when we set forth in the season that we would finish somewhere deep in the state tournament,” said coach Danny Ipson. “Obviously our goal was to compete for the state championship. But I’m proud of the guys, proud of the effort they put forward.”