Ah, life's little ironies - they were evident enough in Spanish Fork's 3-2 last-inning victory over Murray in the 3A state prep baseball playoff semifinals Thursday at Ken Price Park.
A sampling of such ironies:
- The defending champion Dons finally won a close one; their half-dozen defeats this season were all by one run. "But you can't expect that to happen again," said ever-optimistic SF Coach Jim Nelson.
- Spanish Fork's brace-bearing pitcher Rob Nielsen (still seeking knee support after a fall football injury) pitched brilliantly Monday but lost a 1-0 one-hit heartbreaker to Murray. So after spending all of Thursday morning at the therapist to pamper a sore arm, Nielsen went the seven-inning distance, scattering five hits and striking out nine.
- But perhaps the biggest ironies involve Spanish Fork second baseman Randy Hess, who committed one of several key Don blunders that could have resulted in a second loss, eliminating SF from the tourney. Trying to score from second on a teammate's fourth-inning single, Hess ran past Nelson and his stop-here signal at third and was easily gunned down at home.
Not to worry, though, as Hess would have a chance to redeem himself.
After going three-for-three already in the game, Hess came up in a dream-like opportunity - bases loaded, one out and score tied at 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh and final inning.
Hess smacked a run-scoring single down the third-base line, scoring pinch-runner Pat Soreson from third and giving the Dons new life. All three 3A finalists each have playoff loss, so Spanish Fork faces West in Friday's first game at 11:30 a.m., with the winner going against Murray for the 3A title in the 2 p.m. contest.
Murray suffered its first playoff loss despite leading 2-0 through most of the game. The Spartans scored their pair in the second, with pitcher Cody Winget bringing in the first run with an RBI single. Then with the bases loaded and a Murray batter hitting a two-out infield grounder, SF looked for the force - unsuccessfully, too - at home rather than the easier third-out force at any other base, allowing Bryce Benson to score on the mental mistake.
Spanish Fork scored one in the sixth on a solo homer by Greg Flinders. But the Dons couldn't capitalize on a first-and-third opportunity with just one gone.
However, the Dons saved their game-winning rally for the seventh, with Scott Vest walking and Randy Reid singling, with Madsen then coming to relieve for Winget.
A force at third was followed by a single by Brett Lindsay, with Reid scoring as a Murray fielder bobbled the ball in the short leftfield. An intentional walk to Flinders loaded the bases, setting up Hess' heroics. West 4, Ogden 0
Brian Thomas tossed a one-hit shutout and West started off its attack with a three-run first inning as the Panthers eliminated the Tigers.
With one out in the bottom of the first, West's Matt Byrd singled and Jason Butcher reached first on an infield error. Able Salazar followed with a two-run single, scoring later on a RBI single by Justin Mark.
Ogden's Ed Quinney suffered the loss - his first of the season - in allowing seven hits over six innings.