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6A baseball playoffs: Walker and stellar defense leads Lone Peak to a 3-1 win over Cyprus

MAGNA — The playoffs is a fine time to be in top form, and for Lone Peak pitcher Cade Walker, he showed the best stuff he has all year in the Knights' 3-1 first round win over Cyprus on Monday. The junior flew by the middle innings after struggling a bit in the first and seventh innings, setting up his team well in advancing to the second round of the double-elimination tournament.

"Cade stepped up big-time for us. He's had some really good outings for us, but today was his best of the year," said Lone Peak coach Jeremy Berg. "We needed it because Cyprus is a really good team and well-coached. We needed a big-time performance on the road against a great team, and we got it."

While on point for most of the afternoon, Walker started off a bit shaky, hitting two batters in the first inning while allowing a single. But faced with a bases-loaded situation and two outs, he bore down to record a strikeout and end the threat.

"I struggled with my curveball early. Couldn't really find it, so I just decided to rely on my fastball, and it worked well," Walker said. "Eventually I started throwing the curve well and then I was just able to get it going."

Walker didn't allow more than one base runner from innings 2-6 while forcing a bevy of ground ball outs and weakly hit fly balls.

From the plate the Knights didn't offer a lot of offense, but managed two runs in the top of the third inning, courtesy of an RBI triple from Matt Barney and an RBI single from Ethan Lamb to take a 2-0 lead.

"We weren't able to get the bats going like we wanted, but fortunately it was enough," Berg said. "Again, Cade was great and we also had some guys really step up defensively."

Stepping up the most was perhaps right fielder Tanner Nielson in the bottom of the sixth. A leadoff single appeared primed to be cashed in when Cyprus' Parker Meldrum lined a hard shot which looked to drop before Nielson made a spectacular diving catch and then doubled off the runner who was ready to round second base.

"It was really nice. It got me really hyped up. It was great," Walker said of Nielson's defensive gem.

"That was a game-changing play. It got out of what looked like a really tough spot just like that. It was huge," Berg added. "He's one of the best outfielders in the state and he showed it today."

Any run is a big one in a low-scoring pitcher's duel, making an insurance run coming by way of a sacrifice fly off of Lamb's bat in the top of the seventh prove bigger than otherwise.

"It was a huge run. We needed it," Berg said. "I told the guys we needed to extend the lead right before that inning for momentum and we got it. It was big."

Indeed, the Pirates threatened in the bottom half of the seventh inning, ultimately scoring one run to cut the lead to 3-1, but consecutive ground outs forced by Walker ended things, sending Lone Peak to the second round in the no-loss bracket.

"Cade helped put us in a great spot with how he pitched today," Berg said. "Being able to use just one pitcher and get a win in the first round is huge for any team, and we got that. It sets us up well for what is going to be a challenging tournament."

Lone Peak advances to take on Riverton on Tuesday while Cyprus will face an elimination game the same day when taking on Clearfield.