The Timpanogos baseball team clung to the narrowest of leads as Salem Hills stepped up to bat in the top of the seventh inning of Saturday’s 5A Last Chance Tournament championship game in Spanish Fork.
The Skyhawks drew a walk, then laid down a well-executed bunt that forced the Timberwolf third baseman to throw to first for the force out. But as the Salem Hills baserunner rounded second, he saw that no one had covered third base and took off.
“We had our center fielder pitching who really doesn’t pitch that much,” Timpanogos head coach Kim Nelson said. “As soon as the bunt went down, I’m yelling, ‘Third base! Third base!’ but no one could hear me. The players were standing there watching it.”
Timberwolf pitcher Trevor Herrick suddenly realized what was happening and sprinted for the third-base bag as the Skyhawk runner came barreling down the baseline.
“Small situations can change the game,” Herrick said. “I saw the throw, so I tried to block it so it wouldn’t get past me. It managed to pop up right into my hand and I was able to tag him. It was really lucky.”
The pitcher, baserunner and ball all arrived at nearly the same time but Herrick was just quick enough to apply the tag in time to get the crucial second out.
“Thankfully Trevor is as fast as he is and was able to get there,” Nelson said. “That really was the play of the game.”
That play epitomized the resiliency of the 2020 Timpanogos baseball team, which might not have been perfect but just kept coming back until it got the final out to defeat Salem Hills, 9-8, to win the 5A Last Chance Tournament title.
“This is best feeling in the world, it really is,” Timberwolf senior Paxton Richards said. “To be here with my brothers, it’s so fun. You’ve been grinding all year, then you get the stoppage with the coronavirus. You don’t get to play for two months and then you get this last chance. It was fun to play with my boys before the next part of life starts. I loved every minute of it.”
Nelson called it an “amazing high school game.”
“To execute the way we did without having done anything for two-and-a-half months, it was the kids doing what they were asked to do,” Nelson said. “We’re fortunate as coaches to work with great young men.”
The Timberwolves had to overcome the loss of the 2020 season due to efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, then overcome Wednesday’s heart-breaking 12-11 victory that put Timpanogos in the elimination bracket of the Last Chance Tournament.
But the Timberwolves battled their way through Springville, Cottonwood, Spanish Fork and Maple Mountain to make it to the last day of action. Then Timpanogos faced the challenge of needing to defeat Salem Hills twice to win the tournament title.
“We got started in the elimination part and were in a bad way, but since that time we had a whole bunch of kids make a lot of contributions,” Nelson said. “We played seven games in four days. We lost one of our best pitchers and were asking people who haven’t even thrown in JV games to pitch. It’s just amazing that the young men answered the bell. It was fun.”
After pulling away for the big win in the first game, the Timberwolves and the Skyhawks played a classic in the nightcap with the championship on the line.
Neither team could maintain a lead for long as the game seesawed back and forth.
Timpanogos scored a run in the bottom of the first, then Salem Hills bounced back with three runs in the top of the second. The Timberwolves tallied three runs in their half of the frame to go back in front, but the Skyhawks again tied the game in the top of the fourth.
The biggest Timpanogos lead came after the T’Wolves put up three runs in the bottom of the fourth, but Salem Hills answered with four runs in the top of the fifth to go up 8-7.
Needing to regain the momentum in the bottom of the fifth, Timpanogos got a key double from Dylan Winger to drive in two runs and put the Timberwolves in front.
Both teams also had to deal with the heavy rain that started midway through the game and soaked the field, making footing more treacherous.
“I told our kids it would’ve been nice to play this team with our guys on a beautiful sunny day,” Salem Hills head coach Scott Haney said. “I walked across home plate and a little bit on the mound and wondered how they even did anything because it was so bad. Both teams still were able to compete and we went back and forth. Both teams were tougher than nails.”
In the end, however, the Timberwolves were able to hold off the Skyhawks in the final two innings to secure the victory and spark a jubilant celebration on the field.
“This is what makes baseball fun, that constant battle,” Richards said. “I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. The competition was so fun and to come out on top like that was awesome. You’ve got nothing else, so of course this is like a state championship. This has taught us the big life lessons of grinding through the hard times and looking forward to something better. There’s not a better feeling.”
Haney said he was proud of what his team was able to accomplish as they dealt with all the challenges this year.
“I can’t say enough about my seniors,” Haney said. “What studly kids. You could see that this meant something because they are all upset. Someone has to lose the last game. Our goal every year is to get to the last day. We fell a little short on what we wanted to accomplish but at least we got there.”
But it was Timpanogos who did just enough to walk off the field as the tournament champs.
“This team has been through so much together with all the hard work we’ve put in,” Herrick said. “You have to give it to our seniors, who made us work so much harder. We just put our minds to it. We knew we could do it and played a heck of a game.”
5A Championship Game 1
Timpanogos blew open the first game in the third inning, sending 13 batters to the plate and scoring eight runs with two outs already on the board. The T-Wolves had three hits but Salem Hills also hit three batters in a row, walked three and had a throwing error. Paxton Richards belted a two-run double before the Skyhawks got out of the inning and Timpanogos had a 10-0 lead.
Salem Hills plated four runs in the bottom of the third, highlighted by Chase Higginson’s three-run triple, but the T-Wolves lead was too big to reel in. Timpanogos forced a second championship game with a 13-6 victory in a game that also featured a 45-minute weather delay.