It wasn’t a state title, but under the circumstances, it might end up meaning a little more.
American Fork rallied from a 7-0 deficit to top Riverton 8-7 on Saturday at Nelson Park in Spanish Fork, claiming the championship of the 6A Last Chance Tournament.
Nothing can make up for the lost 2020 season, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis. But the Cavemen still managed to find a special way to cap off the last time they will play together.
“Yeah, definitely, that’s just how we treated it,” AF senior Jack Walker said. “It might as well be because we didn’t get a season. It’s as close as we got to a state championship.”
American Fork tied the game at 7 in the bottom of the fifth on an Ethan Jones single and manufactured the go-ahead run in the sixth when Kaden Carpenter was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Dalton Smith got the final six outs for the Cavemen, including a ground ball out with the tying run aboard in the top of the seventh. Shortstop Peyton Wilson’s throw was on target and American Fork was able to enjoy the requisite dogpile at the pitcher’s mound.
“The guys kept battling,” said Caveman coach Jarod Ingersoll, his voice choked with emotion. “It was pretty cool. We struggled early. A lot of teams get down 7-0, they roll over. We kept telling them to believe and the kids did it. They believed. It was really special for them to come back and fight with a game like that under such big circumstances.”
Riverton, which came up out of the elimination bracket, jumped on AF starter Nate Rhineer from the beginning. Parker Applegate tripled in a run and then came home on a ground ball for a 2-0 lead in the first. The Silverwolves added three more runs in the second, including a two-run double from Carter Miller, and dropped two more runs on the board in the fourth for a commanding 7-0 lead.
Riverton starter Brant Butterfield retired the first 10 Cavemen he faced before Easton Whittaker finally broke up the no-hit bid with a single to left. Carpenter later drove in a run with a single and Whittaker scored from third on a wild pitch to close to within 7-2 after four innings.
Walker’s bases-loaded single in the fifth drove in two runs and Carpenter doubled in another score to pull within 7-5. Fisher Ingersoll plated another run on a fielder’s choice to make it 7-6 and Jones’ single tied it up, setting the stage for the big finish.
Walker, who had two hits and drove in two runs, also made a spectacular running catch in center field in the sixth inning which likely saved a couple of runs.
“I didn’t think I caught it then I saw it in my glove,” Walker said. “It was awesome. I got a good jump but it was a lot further than thought. I barely got it off the ground.”
Riverton still had runners and first and second with one out after Walker’s catch, the score still tied at 7-all. But Smith induced Easton Norris to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
“We’ve just got to trust in each other,” Walker said. “We were trying to have as much fun as we could even though we were down that much. Once we got a rally going, we didn’t stop. That’s all it took. Our entire season was taken away and then all of a sudden out of nowhere we get a weeklong tournament. We came together. This is the tightest team we’ve ever had.”
Carpenter finished with two hits and three RBI and the American Fork bullpen came through after the rough start.
“Gabe White, he’s one of our senior left handers, and he did a great job,” Ingersoll said. “Then we had our little sophomore, Sawyer Hardman, he came in and did a great job, too. And Dalton, he’s going to be a senior next year. I was really proud of our pitching staff.
“Our senior group is so resilient, as all the seniors are in this 2020 class,” Ingersoll said. “They led the way. They are workers and an example for the younger. I’m just so proud of our nine seniors that we have.”
American Fork has won nine state baseball championships, most recently in 2012 and 2016. Will the Last Chance Tournament trophy find a place next to those titles?
“We’ll put it there by them,” Ingersoll said with a smile.