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American Leadership Academy making history in 3A state tournament

By Darnell Dickson - | May 12, 2022

Darnell Dickson/Daily Herald

American Leadership Academy's Daysun Cuthill delivers a pitch against Juan Diego during a 3A state quarterfinal baseball game on Thursday, May 12, 2022.

American Leadership Academy may have lost its 3A baseball quarterfinal matchup with Juan Diego on Thursday but the Eagles are already breathing rarified air.

They want more of it.

ALA was 0-19 just three seasons ago and hasn’t had a winning record since 2008. But Dustin Johnson has the Eagles playing at a high level in 2022 and competing for a 3A title. The Eagles won their first two games of the 3A tournament against Manti (8-7) and Delta (2-1) to reach the quarterfinals.

“We’ve never won more than one game at the state tournament before now,” Johnson said. “These guys have been working hard in the offseason and the senior leadership has been amazing. They’ve got the desire to win and they’re never going to quit.”

No. 7 Juan Diego (14-12) won Thursday’s quarterfinal 8-4 at UVU’s UCCU Ballpark to advance in the championship bracket to play No. 4 Carbon in the semifinals. ALA, the No. 3 seed, faces an elimination game on Friday.

Darnell Dickson/Daily Herald

Juan Diego shortstop Sam Silversmith throws to first base during a 3A state quarterfinal baseball game against American Leadership Academy on Thursday, May 12, 2022.

The Eagles (22-6) will lament a couple of key scoring chances they didn’t convert. ALA loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the first but Zayne Thornton flied out to center field. In fourth inning, the Eagles had another two out rally and put runners at second and third. Ethan Ward stung a hard line drive but right at a Juan Diego infielder to end the inning.

“For sure, we missed out on a few opportunities,” Johnson said. “Overall, the boys battled hard. Every time we play Juan Diego, it’s a tough game and a battle. We’ve just got to learn from it. Hopefully, we can come back through the bottom bracket, and we’ll get a chance to meet up with them again.”

The two teams met twice during Region 14 play, with Juan Diego winning 10-5 on April 19 and ALA rallying for a 9-8 victory two days later. The Soaring Eagles were an offensive machine in the first two games of the tournament, scoring 41 runs in wins against Richfield and Canyon View.

On Thursday, Juan Diego’s Gabe Perkins smashed a three-run homer in the third inning for a 3-0 lead. ALA came storming back in the bottom of the inning to tie the game at 3. Jaeger Nelson drove in a pair of runs with a double and Thornton plated another run with an RBI single.

Juan Diego took a 6-3 lead in the fifth, getting a two-run single from Malik Harris and an RBI from Sam Silversmith. Nelson led off the bottom of the inning with a triple and came home on a Juan Diego throwing error to cut the deficit to 6-4.

Darnell Dickson/Daily Herald

American Leadership Academy's Ethan Wood starts toward first base after an at-bat against Juan Diego in a 3A state quarterfinal baseball game on Thursday, May 12, 2022.

Juan Diego had two big hits in the top of the seventh — an RBI double from Patrick Swanson and an RBI triple from Dallas Larson — to grab an 8-4 advantage. In the bottom of the seventh, Zach Carlson came on for the Soaring Eagles and struck out the side to end the game.

The loss ended a nine-game winning streak for ALA.

“The motto of our program is work hard, never quit,” Johnson said. “And that’s what they’ve done. Last time, we played Juan Diego, we came back from down 8-3 and beat them 9-8 in the bottom of the seventh. They just kept working and they kept battling, so they’ve really embraced that model. As long as we’ve got a pitch or an out to go, I’ve got full belief in these guys that they’re just going to keep battling and keep working. Today wasn’t our day, but the next day might be so we just keep going.”

Nelson, who singled, doubled and tripled in the game, echoed his coach’s comment about the benefits of working hard.

“It’s been was great. I mean, we got a great group of guys,” Nelson said. “We had this senior class coming up since we were sophomores. We worked hard for this. We were all together, pretty much all nine of us as sophomores, juniors and seniors, and we’re all finally here. We’re actually doing good. And we’re working hard.

Darnell Dickson/Daily Herald

American Leadership Academy teammates welcome pitcher Daysun Cuthill between innings of a 3A state baseball quarterfinal against Juan Diego at UCCU Ballpark in Orem on Thursday, May 12, 2022.

“Since open gym started we’ve been going every single day. When we were sophomores, we’d go twice a week, eight o’clock at night. So we’ve been grinding.”

Juan Diego pitcher Caden Fenger (middle) hides his mouth with his glove while talking to teammates Patrick Swanson (13) and Tyler Easter during a 3A state playoff game against American Leadership Academy on Thursday, May 12, 2022.

American Leadership Academy's Braydon Johnson slides in safely at second base during a 3A state quarterfinal baseball game against Juan Diego on Thursday, May 12, 2022.

American Leadership Academy's Cameron Fenn warms up in the bullpen during a 3A state quarterfinal game against Juan Diego on Thursday, May 12, 2022.

American Leadership Academy' Jaeger Nelson finishes out a stand-up triple in a 3A state quarterfinal game against Juan Diego on Thursday, May 12, 2022.

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