SPANISH FORK — Although there wasn’t much high school baseball played in 2020, the conclusion of play provided some truly special moments.
Saturday marked the championship round of both 5A and 6A competition in the Last Chance Baseball Tournament, with Timpanogos and American Fork proving the final teams standing in the respective competitions.
The Timberwolves battled through rainy conditions to upset Salem Hills on two occasions (13-6 and 9-8) in the double elimination tournament with the Cavemen rallying from a 7-0 deficit to get by Riverton 8-7.
Both teams celebrated as if they’d won a state championship, with some stating it was difficult to tell much difference.
“You got nothing else, so of course it feels like a state championship,” said Timpanogos senior Paxton Richards. “I loved it and there’s not a better feeling. It’s really been awesome.”
The Last Chance Tournament came about after the cancellation of the prep baseball season, in hopes of forming an opportunity for select teams to experience something similar to a state tournament. By all accounts, the tournament proved successful in that regard, with Caveman coach Jared Ingersoll indicating he’ll place the Last Chance Tournament champion trophy prominently at his school.
“The kids did it. And it was really special how they came back to fight,” Ingersoll said. “In such big circumstances, I was just proud of them coming together as a team.”
As mentioned, the Cavemen dug a 7-0 hole for themselves before mounting a furious rally to come out on top, 8-7.
Leading the charge was Kaden Carpenter, who contributed four RBIs off two key hits and a hit-by-pitch, along with Jack Walker, who contributed standout defensive play along with several key hits for American Fork.
“Big-time players make big time plays in special situations,” Ingersoll said of Walker, specifically. “He’s just a great kid.”
Walker’s standout play was making a diving catch out of center field to stunt a Riverton rally in the top of the sixth inning. With runners on first and second and no outs with the game tied 7-7, Walker’s adept fielding turned an otherwise sticky situation into even more momentum for his team.
“I didn’t think I caught it, but then I saw it in my glove,” Walker said. “I got a good jump on it, but it was a lot further than I thought, and I barely got it off the ground.”
The bottom of the sixth inning saw Carpenter take a pitch to his ankle with the bases loaded, which sent in what proved the championship-winning run.
“Our senior group is so resilient,” Ingersoll said. “They led the way and set the example for the younger kids. I’m just so proud of the seniors we had.”
As for Timpanogos, it battled back from a 3-1 deficit in the second 5A game of the day in truly adverse weather conditions to secure the championship trophy.
The game-winning hit came from Dylan Winger, who hit a pitch just short of the fence to send in two runs for a 9-8 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning. Helping secure the lead was a great double play headed by quick-fielding third baseman Ky Decker, who jumped on a slow-roller to help stop a late rally by the Skyhawks.
Like every team involved in the tournament, Timpanogos had to battle through truly extraordinary circumstances to ready itself for the Last Chance Tournament and play as best they could despite an almost three-month layoff from play. In some ways, it made the experience perhaps even more beneficial than coming out on top of a regular state championship.
“It just teaches you the big lessons of grinding through the hard times,” Richards said. “So it was just awesome and being with my brothers was the best part.”