For much of the season, the Pleasant Grove baseball team lined up cowboy boots on the dugout wall as a motivational tool.
In a tense 6A state championship game on Friday at UCCU Ballpark, these boots were made for walkin’.
Jackson Hill drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth inning to bring in Brock Watkins with the game-winning run in a 5-4 Pleasant Grove victory over Region 4 rival Lone Peak, giving the Vikings the 6A state championship.
Pleasant Grove no-hit the Knights 12-0 on Tuesday to send them into the elimination bracket but Lone Peak won three straight games to move into the championship game needing a victory to force a second. For much of Friday’s game, Knights starter Noah Bean kept the Vikings off balance with an assortment of breaking balls. Lone Peak led 4-3 headed to the bottom of the seventh.
Then Watkins — who had already turned heads with a number of jaw-dropping plays at shortstop during the game — stepped to the plate to lead off the inning. He drove a pitch over the left-field wall to tie the game at 4-all.
Pleasant Grove coach Darin Henry said he sensed Watkins was going to do something special.
Watkins did, too.
“I was just thinking of trying to split the gap,” Watkins said. “I was just trying to get a pitch to hit. I had a good feeling about it. I knew the guys behind me would get it done.”
Watkins was right about that, too. In the bottom of the ninth, Watkins singled, Jake Fryer walked and Payton Norman was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Hill worked a 3-2 count before ball four sailed high to win the game for the Vikings.
“It was pretty nerve wracking that this pitch was going to make or break, at least for me,” Hill said. “I saw it (go high) and I just smiled. It feels so good to be state champs. I’m so excited because we fell short in football.”
The Vikings took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the third. Watkins singled and came home when Fryer drove a ball to the wall for an RBI double.
Lone Peak’s Chase Comer tied the game at 3-all in the bottom of the fourth with a towering solo home run to left. Later, the Knights took a 4-3 lead on a PG throwing error but Trey Gamble was thrown out at third to end the inning. That prompted an argument from Lone Peak coach Jeremy Berg, who was ejected from the game.
“Lone Peak is a fabulous team,” Henry said. “To battle back like they did show so much character. We’ve been in that losers bracket so we know exactly how (tough) that is.”
Watkins — who will play at BYU next season — finished his high school career as the all-time leader in base hits. Against Lone Peak, he was 4 for 5 with a double and a home run while also scoring the game-winner.
“He’s the best player in the state and everybody knows it,” Henry said. “You saw the plays he made at shortstop today. It’s awesome because his dad is one of my best friends growing up (and an assistant for Pleasant Grove). We won the first state (baseball) state championship for PG in 1987, and now we get to share this with our kids. We’re state champions, and I love it.”
Brock Watkins started the cowboy boots trend earlier this season and was soon joined by many of his teammates.
“He sent a text to the players that said, ‘These are (another word for crap) kickers, and we need to go kick some (crap),’” Henry said. “It was a just a statement like that.”
Gambill led Lone Peak (17-13) by going 3 for 5 while Kobe Freeman, Matt Barney and Comer added two hits each.
Norman, Hill and Kyler Lester had two hits each for Pleasant Grove (22-8), which also benefited from a strong relief appearance by Kreed Trane. He pitched 4.2 innings of shutout baseball, allowing just two hits and striking out two.
Friday was the fifth state championship for Pleasant Grove, joining 1987, 1994, 1998 and 2015.
“This team is a group of grinders,” Henry said. “We’ve gone to Las Vegas and Malibu, trying to figure out the toughest competition to play in the Western United States just to get us tested for Region 4 and for this. We’ve believed since Day 1 and I can’t be any prouder of these boys.”
LONE PEAK 8, SYRACUSE 3
Gambill had a big game for the Knights, blasting a two-run homer off the scoreboard, driving in three runs and scoring three himself as Lone Peak eliminated Syracuse, 8-3, to move on to the championship game against Pleasant Grove.
The game was delayed twice by rain for a total of three hours. Before the first delay, the Knights took a 2-0 lead, Ethan Lamb driving in the first run and Tanner Nielson stealing home for the second. After Syracuse tied it up, Gambill launched his long ball for a 4-2 Lone Peak advantage in the second inning before another storm paused play. Almost two hours later the game picked back up and the Knights kept finding ways to increase their lead. Gambill singled in a run, stole second and came home on Nielson’s single for an 8-2 Lone Peak lead in the sixth.
Hunter Wilder was 3 for 4 and Mark Amparan slugged a solo home run for Syracuse (16-13), which had never advanced to the last day of the state tournament in its history.
The marathon game included 12 pitchers, eight on the Syracuse side.