Down, but not out, Snow Canyon’s baseball team looked to the past for the inspiration needed to battle back from the brink after losing to Desert Hills on Friday in the 3A semifinals.
Turns out, another team had been in a similar situation.
In 2007, the Warriors were demoted to the one-loss bracket having lost to Dixie High in the semis. Snow Canyon fought its way back to the title game and eventually secured the championship with two straight victories over its rival.
Knowing it had been done before suddenly made the impossible possible on Saturday at Utah Valley University. After brushing off Spanish Fork 5-2 in the one-loss column, the Warriors again faced the Thunder in the 3A title game.
This time the outcome swayed heavily in the Warriors’ favor as they pulled off an improbable sweep, dropping Region 9’s top team, 16-6, 7-1, to secure their second-consecutive 3A state championship — along with a hefty case of déjà vu.
“After we lost against Desert Hills, Coach (Reed) Secrist called a meeting at our hotel at about 10:30 p.m. and told us about that 2007 team,” said designated hitter Jake Lindsey, who hit a three-run homer in Game 1 against Desert Hills. “Having that story and that history really helped us.”
In the first game of the day, which was delayed by roughly two hours due to rain, Snow Canyon jumped out to a 5-0 lead over Spanish Fork and never looked back.
With ace pitcher Riley Gates depleted after having thrown a complete game against Canyon View on Thursday and additional innings against Desert Hills in the semifinals, Coach Secrist turned to Chandler Day.
Day threw the entire seven-inning game against the Dons, whiffing five batters while giving up just two runs — mimicking his brother Austin, who threw for the Warriors in the one-loss bracket against Judge Memorial in 2007.
“The season was on the line right there,” Day said. “We had to win that game in order to get to the championship. Coach just gave me the ball and I kept the ball down and mixed it up. I let my defense play. They made the plays and we came out on top.”
Next came the rematch against Desert Hills. The Warriors needed two wins to take the crown. The Thunder needed one.
In the semis, Snow Canyon had jumped to a 4-0 lead, only to allow its opponent to sneak back and eventually take the ballgame.
Game 1’s outcome Saturday was quite different.
The Warriors’ offense exploded in the fourth inning, resulting in nine runs scored to push a 5-2 lead to 14-2.
Desert Hills coach Jerry Beck went with three different pitchers in the frame to disastrous results. Blake Betts loaded the bases and was replaced by Clay Gardner, who walked and hit two batters for four total runs. Zac Ivie then stepped in and immediately gave up a base-clearing triple to Chandler Day for the 12-run Snow Canyon advantage.
“We came out with energy,” Day said. “We knew we’d been beat three times (including two in the regular season) by them and weren’t going to let it happen again. We just decided we were going to do everything we could.”
The Thunder secured four runs in their next at bat, including a two-run homer to center by Ty Rutledge.
Clint Gates relieved Joey Sargent on the mound and quickly halted the comeback.
Two more Snow Canyon runs in the fifth, scored off a two-RBI single to left field by Lindsey, wrapped up the five-inning contest.
“We had really good momentum going after Spanish Fork,” Lindsey said. “We were really hitting the ball well and we really wanted to beat Desert Hills.”
Game 2 featured more high-octane offense from Snow Canyon.
Against Thunder pitcher Baden Powell, the Warriors put up five runs in three quick innings. Day doubled to left field in the bottom of the second for the 3-0 score, and then Lindsey and Mason Smith each had RBIs in the third that pushed the lead to five.
Gates went the distance on the mound, despite closing the previous game, and gave up just four hits, conceding a run in the seventh inning.
“It’s the state championship, you’ve got to give it everything you got,” the junior said. “My defense played great, no errors. I have to give a lot of thanks to them.”
Gates also had a solo home run in the game in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“I’m glad I got him for one more year,” Secrist said.
Once the final out was secure, Snow Canyon stormed the field. Secrist was presented with the trophy, which he quickly handed over to Riley Gates.
“You’re the one who earned it,” he said to his star pitcher.
The championship caps off a turbulent year for the Warriors. They finished second in region with an 8-4 record, but couldn’t keep pace with No. 1-seeded Desert Hills which, before Saturday, had won all 13 games it played this year against fellow Region 9 opponents.
Even Riley Gates showed signs of vulnerability after dominating the mound in 2012. Still, as the soft-spoken pitcher commented after throwing 11 strikeouts against Canyon View on Friday: “The regular season doesn’t matter. Playoffs are a clean slate. Whoever comes to play gets rewarded.”
For Desert Hills, the loss ends a spectacular season on a sour note. The Thunder went 12-0 in Region 9 for their first ever region title, and then cruised through the playoffs.
They had their chances to cut into Snow Canyon’s lead in Game 2.
With two runners on base in the third inning, Kaleb Caplin hit a long shot to left field, and then rounded first base behind Evan Moss. Betts, who was stationed at second, made a go at home plate, but quickly retreated. Moss stopped at second, leaving Caplin stranded. Snow Canyon made the easy out at first.
In the sixth frame, Carson Clement hit the ball to right field and tried to turn his single into a double. He was tagged out at second base.
The team was clearly discouraged after suffering back-to-back losses against a team they’d beaten throughout the season.
“We’re just going to try to focus on the positives,” Beck said. “We had a great year. Being the first team to go undefeated in Region 9 since 2003 is a huge accomplishment.
“We just got it handed to us today. Credit Snow Canyon, they swung the bat really well today. Sometimes that’s how baseball goes, you take your lumps. But I’m proud of my guys for putting themselves in this position and giving themselves a chance. It was great.”