They tasted play on a Saturday at the 3A state baseball tournament for the first time in five years. In the end, one rough inning was the death blow for Cedar’s chances to go after the championship trophy.
Clay Gardner belted a three-run homer that highlighted a four-run fourth inning as Desert Hills beat Cedar, 5-3, to advance to the 3A title game for the second year in a row. Despite losing a 3-1 lead with the Thunder rally, head coach Eric Fieldsted said the Thunder made the comeback opportunities more difficult.
“They made pitches,” Fieldsted said. “They made plays when they needed to, and we couldn’t execute down the stretch. These kids battled their guts out.”
Senior Kayden Lunt started for the Redmen and was staked to the early lead before the Thunder took their cuts at the plate. Facing DH starter Baden Powell, Rykker Tom singled with two out before Brock Esplin belted a two-run homer to left for a 2-0 edge.
The Thunder didn’t get on the board until the bottom of the third. Braiden Irvin led off with a double, stole third and scored on a one-out single from leadoff hitter Evan Moss to cut the margin to 2-1. The RBI ended Lunt’s scoreless streak after 12 straight innings, and the right-hander wouldn’t get out of the fourth.
Cedar got the run back in the top of the fourth on a sacrifice fly from Morgan Garrett to temporarily restore a two-run edge, but Desert Hills responded by taking advantage of a tiring Lunt.
Clean-up hitter Clay Wilcox led off with a walk, and Lunt hit Blake Betts with a pitch to put two runners on with one out. That brought up Gardner, who didn’t miss a Lunt fastball and drove it over the fence in left to give the Thunder its first lead, and they wouldn’t let up.
Irvin worked a walk, Jordan Evans singled and Moss followed with his second run-scoring single of the day to extend the Thunder lead to two and put an end to Lunt’s final game in a Cedar uniform.
Cedar kept up the pressure over the final three innings but was turned away each time. Josh Boyer led off the fifth with a single but was erased as Trey Esplin hit into a double play, the Thunder’s second of the game. In the sixth, Brock Esplin led off with a triple to chase Powell from the mound, but that brought on Dylan File.
File left Esplin stranded at third and went on to record five strikeouts in the final two innings to earn the save
Boyer, who went 2-for-4 on the day, said Cedar’s team chemistry made a difference in the playoff run.
“We always know what people’s strengths are and try to play to them,” the junior right fielder said. “When we do that, we usually come out with a win, but today we didn’t. It’s hard to put into words.
“With the players coming back next year, we’ll have more experience to play in these types of games.”