For a Grantsville team that was in danger of possibly losing by the 10-run mercy rule midway through Friday’s 3A state tournament winners bracket game, it never stopped battling.
The players approached each at bat like it was a one-run game, not an eight-run contest, and slowly but surely the deficit started to shrink.
By the end of the sixth inning, Grantsville had rallied to tie the game, and then in the bottom of the seventh it completed the unlikely 9-8 victory on a walk-off pop-up error behind second base as the wind wreaked havoc with Richfield’s infielders.
“All we ask is for our kids to come in and hit the ball hard. Jace (Sandberg) hit the ball hard and gave us a chance and the wind help us out a little bit,” said Grantsville coach Aaron Perkins.
In a game that began with blue skies and Richfield rolling, the ending certainly wasn’t what most expected with gusting winds and Grantsville storming the field with the bizarre walk-off.
With the win, the Cowboys advance to Saturday’s championship game and will face the winner of the 10 a.m. game between Richfield and Carbon at Cate Field on the campus of Salt Lake Community College in West Jordan.
“I just kept telling my kids in between innings, ‘Keep battling and trust the process.’ I knew we would get to them eventually, I just didn’t know when,” said Perkins.
With Richfield leading 8-0 after three and a half innings, Grantsville was certainly running out of time to get things going.
Perkins believed his team just needed one run to get on track, which it finally got in the top of the fourth inning on an RBI single by Zach Hale. Josh Staley followed with a two-run single, cutting the deficit to 8-3 after four innings.
It was a disappointing inning for Richfield as all three runs were unearned after a fielding error, but surely it was still in fine shape up five.
Grantsville tacked on another run in the fifth on a RBI single by Bridger Beacham, but again Richfield probably felt like it was in fine shape after getting out of a jam.
In the sixth though, the wheels started to come off for Richfield. It walked four batters in the bottom of the frame, which allowed Grantsville to come back and tie the game at 8-8.
Grantsville even had a chance to blow the game wide open with the bases loaded and one out, but Richfield escaped with a pop up and a ground out.
In the top of the seventh, Richfield was in great shape to perhaps regain the lead after a leadoff double by Jaron Ross was followed one batter later on a throwing error to put runners at the corners with one out. A caught baserunner and a strikeout, however, ended the threat.
Grantsville got a walk to lead off its half of the seventh. Two batters later after a Richfield throwing error, a caught baserunner and then a strikeout, Sandberg came to the bag with two out and the winning run at second base.
He hit towering pop up behind second base that likely would’ve been routine had the late-inning wind not rolled in, but it did and Richfield couldn’t field the ball cleanly as Grantsville advanced in the winners bracket.
The unsung hero of the game for Grantsville was relief pitcher Jaxson George.
When starter Sam Daybell failed to get an out the first six batters he faced, George entered the game in the top of the first inning with his team already down 3-0 and the bases loaded with no outs. Richfield added two more runs on a double by Will Robinson, but George kept the game from getting out of control.
Richfield added another run in the third and two more in a fourth inning highlighted by a pair of ground-ruled doubles by Gavin Brown and Max Robinson.
Despite getting hit hard in the fourth, Perkins stuck with George, who seemed to get stronger as the game wore on only allowed one hit over the final three innings.
“Jaxson George won that game for us. We got down early big and with bases loaded he came out and got us out of a jam,” said Perkins. “They got a couple more runs, but he kept us in that game and gave us a chance to win.”
On Saturday, Grantsville will give the ball on the mound to Broc Miller, who Perkins said is the team’s best pitcher and gives the Cowboys the best shot at winning their first state title since 2018.