The defending 2A champs came into Thursday’s game with a 20-1 record and a previous victory this season over No. 4 Beaver 22-1. On paper, it looked like South Sevier would roll.
Things are different, though, when you get to this point in the season.
“This is playoff baseball. You have to come prepared for a battle every game,” said South Sevier coach Eric Baker. “The next games aren’t going to get easier, but stick to your game plan, stick to what we do, and we will be alright.”
After taking a 3-0 lead early in the game, No. 1 South Sevier watched the Beavers tie the game in the sixth inning and then watched sophomore Kanyon Okerlund blast a three-run home in the bottom of the sixth to help the Rams defeat Beaver 6-3 Thursday at Larry H. Miller Field.
Sophomore ace Ryker Freeman was in complete control for the Rams, taking a no-hitter and eight strikeouts to the sixth inning. It looked like nothing would faze the young pitcher.
“Freeman is that kid. When he locks in, he is tough on the mound. He had a little bump in the road, but you didn’t see his composure change, you didn’t see him panic, he was just missing his spots a little bit and that is going to happen in baseball,” said Baker.
After struggling to find any offense with Freeman locked in, Beaver used those missed spots to its advantage.
Trailing 3-0 with the bases loaded and only one out, senior Tyten Fails earned a base on balls, scoring one and cutting into the Rams lead.
After a South Sevier pitching change, sophomore Andrew Hollingshead brought the Beaver faithful to their feet with a line drive single, scoring two and tying the game at three.
The damage could have been even more, but the Rams tagged out the Beaver running trying to advance to third, and then got a ground out two batters later to end the run.
“We only lost one kid from last year, so it’s the same group of kids. They know what it’s like to win close ball games. They know what it’s like to buckle down and go to work,” Baker said.
Buckling down included the Rams answering the big Beaver inning with one of their own.
With two outs and runners on first and second, Okerlund stepped up to the plate. Facing a 3-1 count, the third baseman launched a fly ball toward left field. The ball sailed just to the right of the foul pole, and the Ram dugout exploded as the overall top seed took a 6-3 lead.
Beaver would threaten with two runners getting on base in the top of the seventh, but no more.
“We stayed true to who we are all game long, and you have to give these boys credit,” said Baker.
In the second game of the night under the lights at Larry H. Miller Field, junior pitcher Griffen Bone shined bright, helping lead the No. 6 Kanab Cowboys to a 6-2 upset win over No. 2 Enterprise. The win not only helped Kanab advance but avenged two losses to the Wolves from earlier this season.
“We see us as the underdogs, so we have nothing to lose,” said Kanab coach Craig Brinkerhoff. “We like that role, and how the pressure is on the higher seeded teams.”
After giving up a lead-off triple and allowing one run on a fielder’s choice in the first inning, Bone locked in, striking out seven of the next nine batters he faced, allowed no hits, and gave Kanab the confidence they needed to stay in the game.
“Two weeks in a row, and we couldn’t ask anything more,” said Brinkerhoff. “He’s our guy, and we couldn’t have asked for anything more, shutting down two great teams in a row.”
In the top of the fourth, Bone made sure his impact was felt at the plate as well. He started the Cowboy inning with an infield hit, and advanced to second on an Enterprise error. With junior Maddix Baird next up to the plate, another infield hit caused the Wolves trouble. With three throwing errors on the play, Bone crossed home plate while Baird found his way to third.
Sophomore Kashton Kabonic kept the good times rolling with an RBI triple to the right-center gap, and the Cowboys were in control, leading 3-1.
Kanab added insurance runs in the top of the sixth with a two RBI double by sophomore Kale Glover and an RBI single by junior Jaxon Riddle to take a 6-1 lead.
Trying to rally and put some pressure back on Kanab, the Wolves opened the bottom of the sixth with two singles and a batter reaching on a Cowboys error. With the bases loaded and only one out, Enterprise pitcher Parker Staheli reached base on a fielder’s choice, scoring one. Bone retired the next batter on a ground out, and Kanab held on to a four-run lead.
“This is where you see guys step up. This is where you see what a really good team is made of. We can’t throw our best guys, but we’ve got guys next in line,” said Brinkerhoff.
By the time Bone stepped off the mound for the final time, the Cowboy recorded 10 strikeouts. He also went three for four at the plate with a triple and two singles. Staheli also pitched well for the Wolves, finishing with nine strikeouts of his own.
With the win, the Cowboys will look to continue their run through the tournament when they face top seeded South Sevier Friday afternoon. Enterprise will try to rebound with a day game in the loser’s bracket against No. 5 San Juan.
“This team is really special. We only have two seniors on the team so we are really young,” Brinkerhoff said. “They feel like they have nothing to lose, and thrive in the hard moments, and that is what is really cool to see with this young team.”