The third-ranked Jordan Beetdiggers welcomed one of the state’s winningest baseball coaches to their stadium this week and gave him a rare dose of humility.
After two close wins over Timpanogos, Friday afternoon’s finale of the three-game series was supposed to be even better, right? Not so fast. Instead, the Diggers’ Evan Atkinson had three hits and pitcher Dylan Merkley improved his record to 4-0 as Jordan whipped the Timberwolves 10-3 in a Region 8 game.
The win helped secure Jordan’s prestigious spot in the season’s first RPI rankings, and the Diggers improved to 6-0 in region. Timpanogos fell to 6-6 (3-3 in region) in coach Kim Nelson’s 40th overall season.
“This was exciting for us,” said Jordan coach Chad Fife, who is setting his own standards in his 18 years at Jordan. “Our pitching was on and, when we have good pitching, we’re tough to beat.”
Good pitching wasn’t actually the problem in the first two game of the series. Instead, good hitting just overcame it.
In the opening game of the series Wednesday, the Diggers rallied from a 5-0 deficit to take a 10-9 win. The next day, they blew a 6-0 lead and pushed across nine runs in the final two frames to claim a 17-16 victory. The game ended on Cade Nalder’s three-run double with two outs.
The encore performance, however, went well for only the home team.
Merkley gave up just five hits and single runs in the first, third and sixth innings. Meanwhile, Atkinson was pacing Jordan’s offensive attack with a triple and two doubles. Cole Kershaw also had a pair of doubles.
Jordan led just 3-2, but Stockton Mathis, Hunter Gatti, Kershaw and Kade Larson had consecutive doubles in a three-run fifth. Atkinson, Carter Perry and Kershaw then rapped balls that reached the fence during a five-run sixth.
In between, Merkley escaped a big inning when Timpanogos got its first two runners on base via errors. After an intentional walk loaded them up with nobody out, Merkley enticed the next hitters into groundouts, including one double play.
“A bounce here, a good play there and this is a whole different ball game,” noted Nelson. “That’s why we play them. They (the Diggers) got us this time, but we might see them later in the year.”
Under this year’s format — of playing each region opponent in three consecutive games — Nelson and Fife are hoping to develop deeper pitching staffs because they will be needed during the grueling state tourney. Nelson said even though the Timberwolves gave up 27 runs in the first two games using their two top pitchers, senior Dylan Gazaway and three other hurlers didn’t have bad games on this warm, sunny afternoon.
“A sweep against them (the Timberwolves) is rare,” Fife said. “We’ll find out how good we are in the next couple of weeks. This is a tough region and should get us all ready for state.”