In the fight for the 3A state title, the Grantsville Cowboys didn’t show a lot of offense to challenge Desert Hills. They scored runs in a grand total of two out of 14 innings against the Thunder.
With the help of a few good breaks, the Cowboys pair of eight-run games were just good enough.
Grantsville scored all of its runs in the fourth inning of the second game, including a grand slam from No. 9 batter Clay Matthews, as they held on for a wild 8-7 win over the Thunder to claim its first 3A championship trophy since 2000.
Desert Hills was able to force a second game, but had to overcome Grantsville’s eight-run fifth inning, after taking an 8-0 lead, and survive for a 13-8 victory in the opener. Baden Powell belted a three-run homer that highlighted a four-run sixth inning.
With another tough title-game loss, it was an empty feeling among the Desert Hills players for the second year in a row. Dylan File sat near the team huddle and stared at the ground. Wyatt Bendall left his catching knee pads on. Players did their best to console each other.
“The guys hit the ball all day, but we couldn’t get the breaks when we needed them,” Thunder coach Jerry Beck said.
The Thunder got the scoring started in Game 2 with a third-inning RBI single from starting pitcher Braiden Irvin for a 1-0 lead, but the Cowboys got a big break in the fourth that ignited a game-changing momentum swing.
Dillon Hutchins led off with an infield single, and Wyatt Smith was initially called out on strikes with a pitch that was tight on the inside corner. Smith turned to plate umpire Randy Stafford and claimed he had been hit, pointing to his left shoulder.
Stafford took a look and changed the call, sending Smith to first base. Irvin would hit one more batter with a pitch before being pulled. With Baden Powell on in relief, Matthews greeted him with his first home run of the season that cleaned the bases and put the Cowboys up at 5-1.
“I’m always the sacrifice guy, but I just wanted one swing,” Matthews said. “I put some air under it and connected. I feel like I’m on top of the world right now.”
Later in the inning, winning pitcher Wyatt Barrus belted a two-run double and Wyatt Smith added an RBI single that stretched the lead to 8-1.
But true to the craziness of the day, the Thunder delivered a counter-punch with five runs in the bottom of the frame, three scoring on a bases-clearing double by File. Barrus avoided further damage by getting Bendall and Powell to fly out.
Enter more nuttiness in the bottom of the sixth.
Evan Moss led off with a single to center but was thrown out trying to steal second. Irvin followed and launched a solo home run inside the left-field foul pole that had split opinion among the umpires. While Stafford ruled the ball went foul, base umpire Chad Veater overruled and made the home run motion.
The Thunder benefitted from the call, but they were still down a run after Moss was caught stealing. After singles from File and Bendall kept the inning alive, Grantsville squashed the threat when Powell hit into a double play.
“That’s one you live with,” Beck said of the decision to send Moss. “I had all the faith in the world in Evan there, but he didn’t quite get a great jump. We’re aggressive that way. Sometimes you live by it, sometimes you die by it.”
In the bottom of the seventh, Barrus allowed a leadoff single to Clay Wilcox, but retired the next three in a row to seal the victory and set off a happy dog pile of players in front of the pitcher’s mound.
“We may not have been the best baseball team, but we showed a lot of character and a lot of courage,” Grantsville head coach Loren Anderson said. “We hung in there all day long.”