Sixteen consecutive games.
That’s how long it had been since the Tooele baseball team last savored the taste of victory in regular-season play, a stretch that dated back to the middle of the 2017 season and included the first eight games of this campaign.
But, fresh off their first win of the season a mere 48 hours earlier, the Buffaloes came into Friday’s Region 11 series finale against Bonneville at Dow James Park with a newfound sense of confidence — a sense that never wavered as they erased an early 3-0 deficit en route to a 10-5 win over the Lakers.
“In the dugout and at practice, it’s been a different energy since we got that (20-10) win on Wednesday,” Tooele coach Nolan Stouder said. “That belief is starting to build in their minds now, and now they realize, ‘yeah, we can do this.’”
Tooele (2-8, 2-4 Region 11) found itself on the wrong side of the scoreboard early in the contest, thanks to a leadoff triple by Bonneville’s Brian Jones in the top of the first inning. Jones scored on a groundout by Will Toller, and Buffs pitcher Payton Shields hit Bridger Butters and allowed a double to Justin Longman to set up another RBI groundout by Luke Rahe. Longman then scored on an error to put the Lakers (5-6, 4-2) in front by three runs.
But Shields wasn’t rattled, allowing just two runs the rest of the way in a masterful complete-game performance.
“It was a slow start — I don’t know if the intensity was there in the dugout,” Shields said. “I kind of figured it out once I saw three runs on the board. I kind of zoned in after that.”
The fact that Shields stepped up the way he did came as no surprise to his coach.
“He’s the definition of a competitor and a gamer, man,” Stouder said. “When we throw him out there on the mound, we know that we’re getting his 100 percent effort. He’s going to put the team on his back if he has to. I love the fire he has and it’s awesome to watch him go about it.”
The Buffaloes got their first run of the game thanks to a bizarre sequence of events. Griffen Bate drew a one-out walk, and advanced to second on a balk call against Longman. He then moved to third base on a ball that got past Lakers catcher Joey Morgan, and scored when Longman had the ball slip out of his hand, resulting in another balk.
Tooele tied the game on the bottom of the second. Austin Hansen was hit by a pitch and scored on Jaxon Miner’s two-out bloop double down the right-field line, and Bate followed with an RBI single to center field.
The Buffs took the lead with another two-out rally in the third inning. With Jonathan Faircloth and Steven Laird on first and third, Hansen drilled an RBI double off Jones to right-center to make it 4-3. No. 9 hitter Brandon Vorwaller followed with a two-run single up the middle, and later scored on an error to make it 7-3.
Hansen and Vorwaller combined to go 4-for-5 with four runs scored and four RBIs in the game.
“We’re starting to string some hits together,” Shields said. “One through nine in the batting order is starting to hit, and that’s about all you can ask for. We had some guys step up from the younger team, and they produced. They’re playing well.”
Tyler Beer singled and and came around to score on a pair of botched pick-off attempts in the bottom of the fifth for the Buffs. Vorwaller and Bate added RBI singles in the fifth to cap Tooele’s scoring.
Jones had an RBI double in the fourth and Rahe had an RBI triple in the seventh for Bonneville.
The win gave Tooele its first winning streak since the first two games of the 2017 season, representing a major breakthrough for a squad that had suffered four losses by two runs or fewer in its first eight outings.
“It’s frustrating (losing) those close games, not only for the coaches, but for the players,” Stouder said. “Me and my coaching staff have been expressing the message, ‘if you believe we can win, we can win.’ We have the talent. It’s all about the belief right now, and we’re starting to turn the corner, I hope.
“We were 0-8 at one point, but, shoot, in our minds, we could have been 5-3 or 6-2. We were just so close — we just needed to inch over that mountain and get that ‘W.’”
Tooele traveled to Ogden for the first game of a three-game set on Tuesday. The game was not complete at press time.