Box score

The top seed jinx is finally over for Juab’s baseball team.

Each of the past two seasons, Juab qualified for the 3A state tournament as the No. 1 RPI seed, but didn’t advance into the final day of the playoffs either time. This season, however, it backed up its top seed and put the finishing touches on a perfect playoff run with a 7-4 win over Juan Diego in Saturday’s state championship game.

Juan Diego was the surprise state champ a year ago as the No. 7 seed, and it was hoping for similar magic as the No. 6 seed. It worked its way into the championship game through the one-loss bracket, which included a win over Carbon Saturday morning.

Juab, however, made sure it never went to the “if necessary” game with timely hitting and defense at Kearns High School to capture its first state championship since 1998 and just the second in school history.

“We came with a mindset we were gonna battle and just have a blast this weekend. Our kids, you can see they love playing baseball and you can see their hearts were in them. I don’t think anyone was going to out-effort us or outwork us,” said Juab coach Josh Park.

“We were relentless from Thursday till now and it paid off.”

Juab senior catcher Wyatt Payton said by being the No. 1 seed again, “we definitely had a target on our back and that definitely put some pressure on us.”

You would’ve never known it by the way Juab played during its three wins.

It scored 22 wins in Thursday’s win over Manti, beat No. 2 seed Carbon 6-5 in the semifinals with a walk-off winner and then put pressure on Juan Diego’s defense with aggressive base running and hitting in the championship, which contributed to four errors.

At the plate, Payton continued to do damage in the one at bat Juan Diego opted to pitch to him. In the two games at Kearns prior to Saturday he’d gone a combined a 6 of 8 with three doubles, one home run and seven RBIs.

Juan Diego walked him twice on Saturday, but when it did pitch to him he ripped a two-run homer to right field in the fifth inning that extended Juab’s lead to 5-2.

“Wyatt just had himself a weekend. In fact, he kind of put us on his back offensively this weekend and really created a ton of momentum for us offensively. Super proud of him. He’s a kid who’s played baseball since he was 2. He eats, drinks and sleeps it and for him to go out like this, Super, super happy,” said Park.

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Payton said the ball looked like a beach ball this weekend.

His dinger gave Juab the extra run support it needed as the trio of Kanyon Matinson, Connor Cowan and Austin Park got the job done on the mound combining for seven strikeouts.

Things got a bit scary for the Wasps in the top of the seventh inning as the tying run came to the plate despite a 7-2 lead to start the inning. Park pitched himself into a jam with a hit batter and two walks to load the bases with one out. Andrew Lombana followed with a single to cut the lead to 7-4.

Park proceeded to shrug it off and struck out the final two batters to clinch the title.

It took a few innings for Juab’s bats to get going in the championship, but before that it was the defense that stole the show, particularly center fielder Bryce Bowles. In the third inning with Juan Diego runners on first and second, he made a pair of highlight-reel catches to keep the game scoreless.

His first diving catch game on a shallow fly ball to center that look like it would surely drop for a single. The very next batter hit a deep fly ball to left center field that Bowles sprinted to and caught in full stride just ahead of the warning track.

If that second hit gets to the wall, Juan Diego goes ahead 2-0 and who knows how the game unfolds with momentum in the other dugout.

“It really created us momentum with the gloves, and we did it last night too with the gloves. Bryson in centerfield today just had a day. He played fearlessly, went after balls and came up with the them, and that really was a turning point in this game,” said Park.

Juab responded offensively with three runs in the bottom of the third as Cooper Ford doubled in a pair of runs for the 2-0 lead and then Cael Smith drove in another run on a sacrifice fly.

Juan Diego cut the lead to 3-2 in the fourth inning on a two-run single from Matt Odell, but Juab responded right back in the bottom of the fourth scoring on a throwing error to third on a stolen base attempt.

Odell was denied two more RBIs in the top of the sixth on a diving catch in the gap by Juab right fielder Taylor Newton. Had it been hit a few inches deeper, two more Juan Diego runs would’ve scored cutting the lead to 6-4 with slugger Malik Harris stepping to the plate with another runner in scoring position.

Instead, Juab maintained the 6-2 lead and then tacked on another insurance run on a Matinson RBI single in the sixth.

“I think our outfield was phenomenal today. I think our outfield is what really kept us going, they were making some great plays out there and that just kept everybody’s adrenaline was up, everybody was still ready to go,” said Payton.