The top two seeds in the 6A baseball tournament survived extremely tight games on Monday, a day dominated by strong pitching performances from some of 6A’s best.
Among the four games at UVU in Orem on Monday, No. 1 American Fork beat No. 8 Bingham 2-1 while No. 2 Pleasant Grove beat No. 7 Skyridge 1-0 to advance in the winners bracket of the double-elimination tournament.
Other winners were No. 3 Jordan over No. 6 Lone Peak and No. 5 Riverton over No. 4 Layton, each winning a bit more comfortably in a tournament where the top eight seeds all reached the championship rounds.
The first gem of the day was turned in by Riverton’s Sam Beck, as he pitched six innings of shutout baseball as Riverton bounced Layton 5-0.
It set the stage for two pitchers who were absolutely dialed in during the second game.
Skyridge’s Nick Holland and Pleasant Grove’s Jordan Pace dominated on the mound throughout Game 2 at UVU. The two combined to throw 13 innings of shutout baseball, but one mistake in the bottom of the seventh helped No. 2 Pleasant Grove advance to the 6A winners bracket.
Tate Lewis led off the bottom of the seventh inning and smashed a curveball high over the left field fence for the walk-off winner in the 1-0 victory.
“That was awesome. That was super cool. I was just trying to hit the ball hard, just do everything I can for my team, it’s a team game. I wanted to hit the ball hard up the middle and something great came out of it,” said Lewis, who finished with two of Pleasant Grove’s three hits as he singled earlier in the game.
Lewis said Pleasant Grove expected to get a heavy dose of curveballs from Holland after the previous region meeting. Actually getting hits off Holland was a different story. With the way Pace was in a groove though, Lewis was never really worried.
Pace struck out six and only allowed two hits to pick up the victory. Incredibly, he only threw 79 pitches over seven innings, and 62 of those pitches were strikes.
“He’s got tempo. He stays with the tempo, he wants to get in there and throw strikes. He’s going to throw it in there and he welcomes you to hit it. He’s going to bring any pitch any count, and that’s what’s going to keep them off-balanced,” said Pleasant Grove coach Darrin Henry.
Because he only threw 79 pitches, he’ll be available to pitch again on two days rest instead of three later in the week during the tournament.
Lewis’ seventh inning heroics made that possible.
“He’s been huge for us, the bottom of our line-up has been huge all year, that’s when we’ve been really good. I’m excited to have guys like him down in there. He’s been having some good batting practices lately, he’s just been scorching the ball just like that. We expected something to happen eventually from him, perfect timing from him,” said Henry.
With the win, No. 2 seed Pleasant Grove advances to Tuesday’s winners bracket game and will face No. 3 seed Jordan at 4:30 p.m.
While Pleasant Grove’s advancement was pretty straightforward with dominant pitching and a walk-off homer, Jordan’s path forward was certainly more adventurous.
In the end, the confident demeanor of pitcher Micah Ashman made all the difference.
Ashman walked six, but also struck out six and got himself out of key jams on multiple occasions to pick up the victory on the mound as Jordan beat Lone Peak 9-3.
“When he’s fiery and confident, he’s going to have a good day. If he’s a little down then he’s not. They were firing him up on that side,” said Jordan coach Chad Fife. “I think he just didn’t quit. He was missing real close all day. When you’re missing close, I think some pitchers can lose it a little bit, and he didn’t. He just kept battling.”
It helped that he was pitching from ahead the entire game after Jordan scored five runs in the first inning, only one earned after a fielding error proved very costly for Lone Peak.
The Knights scored three runs in the second to make it a 5-3 game, to get right back into the game. Later in the fourth inning when with Jordan leading 7-3, Lone Peak missed out on a chance for a potentially big inning. With two runners on after a single and walk, Lone Peak tried a double steal but Jordan catcher Cade Nalder threw out the runner at third. Ashman then walked two more batters to load the bases, but after a mound visit from Fife, he got the next hitter to pop up to end the inning.
In the fifth he retired Lone Peak in order before reaching his pitch count.
Evan Atkinson closed things out over the final two innings to keep Jordan in the winners bracket.
In the nightcap at UVU, America Fork ace Dalton Smith overcame some control issues in the sixth inning — which included walking in the tying run — to pitch the Cavemen to the 2-1 victory as he outdueled Bingham pitcher Justis Reiser.
Dax Newman doubled in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth inning.
American Fork advances to face Riverton at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.