ST. GEORGE – Valley and Tabiona expected a battle from each other, and that’s exactly what they got Friday in the second 1A baseball semifinal of the day at Bruce Hurst Field.
Valley jumped out to an early lead on the Tigers and then held off a furious rally as the Buffaloes handed Tabiona its first loss since its season opener on Aug. 8, and advanced to the state championship with a 4-3 victory.
“We came out pretty jittery, this is the first time in probably eight years that we’ve been here,” senior Kobe Shatto said. “We got (the jitters) all out, we got up quick, and we just used our teamwork and stayed ahead and got the win.”
After a pair of scoreless innings to start the game, Valley scored three runs in the top of the third inning on a 2-RBI triple from Shatto, followed by a wild pitch. Valley added another run in the top of the fourth, and could have had more were it not for a call that caused some controversy.
Shortly after replacing starting pitcher Justin Clyde in the top of the fourth, a wild pitch from Tabiona’s Bailey Hogan resulted in Valley’s Jacob Sawyer scoring a run. The ball then bounded into the Buffaloes dugout as the Valley runners continued to round the bases, allowing Brian Barsness to cross home plate as well.
At the conclusion of the play, however, the umpires conferred and a conference ensued with the coaches from both teams and representatives from the Utah High School Activities Association joining in.
It was determined that Barsness was awarded one base too many on the out of play ball. He was returned to third, removing a Valley run from the board. Luckily for the Buffaloes, four runs proved just enough.
Tabiona started its comeback in the bottom of the fourth when Valley’s Jake Spencer walked Dylan Lefler with the bases loaded. Senior Nathan Webb followed up that run with an RBI-single, and with only one out on the board, the Tigers appeared primed for more.
Harley Westerman stepped up to the plate hoping to tie the game, but a line-out to shortstop Austin Spencer led to a double play for Valley to end the inning and the scoring threat.
“This team, they’ve never quit me. They’re diehards. From the get-go I can see them just improve and getting better,” Tiger head coach Ryan Jones said. “The desire and determination that they have is relentless.
“We put ourselves somewhat in position. We struggled hitting the ball today … and that was honestly the difference in the ballgame.”
The Tigers added another run in the bottom of the sixth to pull within one, and again seemed primed to tie the game and take the lead with runners on second and third and only one out. Instead, Valley senior Dallin Cox struck out Webb and Westerman to end the inning.
Tabiona’s ace Hogan, who recorded seven strikeouts and gave up just one run in four innings of play, made short work of Valley in the top of the seventh to set up a scintillating final series.
The Tigers moved runners to second and third with two outs, bringing up senior Reno Humphrey, who was 1 for 1 with two walks, stepped to the plate. Humphrey fought off a count deficit against Shatto, who was on the mound in relief, for a full count.
After two more foul balls, Humphrey caught a hold of one and launched it to center field. It wasn’t deep enough, however, and Valley made the catch to end the game and propel itself to the championship game showdown with region rival Wayne Saturday at noon.
“Kobe Shatto, has probably in the last 10 games, been batting better than probably anyone in the state and he’s been lights out as a pitcher,” Valley head coach Joseph Sorensen said. “He’s a great young man and working his butt off.”
Follow Tim Olsen on Twitter, @TheRealTO.