AMERICAN FORK — As if the tradition-rich rivalry between American Fork and Pleasant Grove needed to become any more intense, Friday's baseball battle between the two Utah County foes certainly added some fuel to that long-raging fire.
Senior outfielder Cade Hill led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a walk-off blast over the left-field fence — the first home run of his high school career — to give the Cavemen a dramatic and somewhat controversial 4-3 victory over the Vikings and a sweep of the two teams' three-game Region 4 series this week.
"It's the first home run of my high school career," said Hill, who said he hadn't homered since he was 12 years old. "And it came at a very good time. "I didn't think I hit it high enough to get out. … I was just looking for a fastball down the middle and that's what I got. I knew I hit it good but I didn't think it was out.
"I just wanted to make sure I touched every base and leave my helmet on when I touched home," said Hill.<
And for good reason. After all, Hill's game-winning homer came after a similar sixth-inning solo shot by Pleasant Grove's Bryce Jones was nullified when American Fork appealed that Jones had failed to touch home plate amidst a joyous celebration with his teammates, and the home plate umpire subsequently called Jones out to negate the potential go-ahead run.
"He stepped over the plate," American Fork coach Jared Ingersoll, whose team has now won 10 straight games, said of the critical call. "Everybody saw it, and that was a gutsy call by the umpire — and it was the right call. … It was the right call, it really was the right call."
His Pleasant Grove counterpart, Darrin Henry, vehemently disagreed.
"I saw my guy jump on home plate — I saw it, I mean, I saw it with my own eyes," Henry pleaded adamantly after the game, when tempers flared briefly. "So what do you do at that point? "But I'm proud of our kids after a call like that. We have a home run hit in biggest game of our season so far … and our kids get that call taken away from them. What I loved was our character that we came back and scored another run (to take a 3-2 lead). … That's what I love about this team, these guys are scrappers and they're not going to back down. … This team will never give up. I'll go to bat with these guys every day.
"American Fork's a great team, but I'm proud of our guys and I think we've got a great team, too," said Henry, whose team came into this week's series riding a nine-game winning streak, only to fall to the Cavemen by scores of 10-9 and 12-6 leading up to Friday's nail-biter. "And hopefully this isn't the last time we'll see them. I think we'll see them again (in the state playoffs)."
After Jones' apparent home run was taken off the board, the Vikings (0-3 Region 4, 9-4 overall) regrouped and gathered themselves, grabbing a 3-2 lead when Braden King and Mitchell Merrill hit back-to-back singles and Riley Erickson sliced a run-scoring double down the left-field line.
But the Cavemen (3-0, 12-1) came right back with a gritty rally of their own. Danny Beddes drilled a leadoff double and, after a strikeout, Jeremy Reynolds and Brock Lamb drew back-to-back walks to load the bases. Pleasant Grove got a forceout at home, but Morgan Flinders reached base on a throwing error that allowed the tying run to score. Pleasant Grove starter Tyler Harmon then got a critical bases-loaded strikeout to end the inning. Kylan Clayton came on in relief of American Fork starter Blake Brailsford in the seventh inning and struck out two of the first three batters he faced. In the eighth inning, however, he ran into trouble, giving up a base hit and a couple of walks. But a Pleasant Grove runner got picked off base, and Clayton wiggled his way out of the jam with an inning-ending flyout that stranded the potential go-ahead run at third.
And when Hill stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the eighth, he soon made a winner out of Clayton and the Cavemen.
"Blake competed and got out of some tough jams when they had runners on," said Ingersoll. "And Ky came in and just competed his butt off. He's been coming down with a little bit of arm trouble, but he threw really, really well for us today.
"To Cade's credit, he's worked hard in the weight room and he's got some pop. He's been great for us all year.
"Pleasant Grove is a good team, and for us to get 3-0 on them that says a lot about our team," the Cavemen coach said. "They're gonna beat some guys and win some games, and I'm just happy with the way our guys finished the week."
B.J. Eldredge had a run-scoring triple for American Fork, while McKay Lewis and Jones each had run-scoring singles for P.G.