OREM — A great game was expected when Desert Hills took on Snow Canyon as the last two teams standing in the winners bracket of the 3A state baseball tournament. But what unfolded Friday afternoon was nothing short of a classic.
In the end it was Desert Hills’ Ty Rutledge crossing the plate in the top of the eighth inning to give his team a one-run lead, and the Thunder held on from there for a 5-4 victory.
“It’s an amazing feeling to come back and win a game like this,” Rutledge said. “It was a team effort — we needed everyone and everyone came up big when we needed it. It’s just a great feeling right now.”
The game featured a bit of everything — great pitching, clutch hitting, critical errors, a late controversial call that factored heavily into the outcome, and most of all, a gutty comeback effort from the Thunder.
“This team is all heart and guts and we kept scrapping,” said Desert Hills coach Jerry Beck. “We haven’t been down much this season ... so to see them respond like that is unbelievable.”
The game began as a pitchers' duel between Desert Hills’ Kaleb Caplin and Snow Canyon’s Brogan Secrist until the Warriors broke through with four runs in the bottom of the fourth. With everything turning against them the Thunder kept their heads up and responded immediately in the top of the fifth.
RBI singles from Baden Powell and Dylan File along with a sacrifice fly from Caplin cut Snow Canyon's lead to 4-3 and set the stage for some late-game heroics.
“When our kids came into the dugout after that fourth inning I knew they weren’t going to quit,” Beck said. “I didn’t have to say much. The guys were talking it up themselves.”
Meanwhile, Beck decided to stay with his senior ace on the mound, and Caplin responded with four straight scoreless innings in what turned out to be a complete-game effort.
“I just let Coach know that he could count on me to get it done and he believed in me,” Caplin said. “I was just leaving the pitches up, but I’ve been pitching a long time and I knew exactly what I was doing wrong, fixed it between innings and it went well after.”
“To be able to pitch eight innings is unbelievable,” Beck added. “It’s one of the most gutsy performances I’ve seen from a high school kid.”
Caplin’s heroics aside, Desert Hills still needed runs to complete the comeback.
Down 4-3 with two on and two out in the top of the seventh inning Bryce Gibson tied the game with an RBI single. Facing Snow Canyon star Riley Gates, Gibson snuck a grounder just out of the reach of diving second baseman Jake Lindsey to bring Powell around from second base.
“When you have guys on base in that situation you just have to get it done,” Gibson said about the hit.
Caplin cruised through the bottom of the seventh to send the game into extra innings.
With one out in the top of eighth Rutledge reached base after an errant throw from the shortstop forced first baseman Chandler Day from the bag. Day reached around to put the tag on Rutledge but didn’t connect, according to the first-base umpire despite massive protests from the Snow Canyon dugout.
“The throw was off a bit and the first baseman made a swipe at him and from our angle he didn’t get him,” Beck said. “It was a good call by the ump.”
Two batters later and with two outs instead of three, Braiden Irvin sent a sharp grounder to the shortstop that was fumbled and allowed Rutledge to cross the plate.
Caplin sent Snow Canyon down in order in the bottom of the eighth to secure the 5-4 victory and send the Desert Hills faithful and bench into a frenzy.
“This win was for everyone,” Caplin said. “It was a complete team effort and that’s what it always is with this team. We know we can depend on everyone to step up.”
With the win Desert Hills advances to Saturday's championship game. It will have two chances for victory in the double-elimination tournament and will resume play at 1:30 p.m. at Brent Brown Ballpark.
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