The Tooele baseball team’s 2019 season ended with an 11-2 loss to Dixie in the Class 4A state tournament Wednesday at Lindquist Field in Ogden, but that won’t be the defining moment of the Buffaloes’ year.
Rather, it will be the way THS proved it belongs among the classification’s top teams after beating two region champions in the one-loss bracket to set up Wednesday night’s game against the Flyers. The Buffs (14-13) beat Mountain Crest on Saturday, and came from behind earlier Wednesday to beat Juan Diego 5-4 in an elimination game at Roy High School.
“It was joyful and a lot of fun to do this,” Tooele coach Nolan Stouder said. “It’s always sad to lose your last game when you’re not raising the (championship) trophy, but this was awesome.”
Hours after the thrilling win over Juan Diego, THS faced off against perennial power Dixie (22-4) in an attempt to eliminate a third region champion in a row. However, the Flyers’ bats were red-hot throughout, and the Buffs couldn’t keep pace. Leading the way for Dixie was leadoff hitter Kayler Yates, who was 4-for-4 with a pair of home runs, a double, five RBIs, five runs scored and a walk.
Dixie built a 2-0 lead in the first inning as Yates and Cooper Vest both walked against Tooele starter Jake Hervat. Yates scored on a sacrifice fly to left by Brenden Blanchard, and Vest came home when the Buffs bobbled Reggie Graff’s ground ball. The Flyers extended the lead on Yates’ leadoff home run to left in the top of the third, followed by a sacrifice fly by Graff that scored Vest to make it 4-0.
Tooele cut the lead to 4-1 in the bottom of the third, loading the bases with back-to-back singles by Jake Lopez, a fielder’s choice by Camden Colovich and another single by Payton Shields. Dixie starter Ajay Leavitt then hit Dalton Harris with a pitch, allowing Lopez to score from third base. But any momentum the Buffs gained was quickly taken away in the bottom of the inning, as Asher Anderson’s leadoff double to left against Tooele reliever Clay Freeman was followed by a line-drive RBI double by Yates that hit the 390-foot sign at the top of the center-field fence. Blake Oaks followed with a two-run home run to left to make it 7-1.
The Flyers scored again in the top of the sixth, aided by a couple wayward pick-off attempts that led to Yates scoring an unearned run after a leadoff single against Harris. Yates then put the exclamation point on his night with a three-run home run to left in the top of the seventh inning.
Lopez hit a one-out double in the bottom of the seventh for Tooele, and scored on Shields’ single to right-center. Lopez was 2-for-3 on the evening, while Shields was 2-for-4. The Buffs were undone by four errors in the field that led to three unearned runs, with Hervat taking the loss after allowing four runs — three earned — on four hits and three walks with two strikeouts in two innings. Freeman allowed three earned runs on four hits in 2/3 of an inning, and Harris gave up four total runs — two earned — on three hits and three walks with three strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings. Jaxson Miner picked up the final two outs of the seventh inning on the mound for the Buffs.
Wednesday night’s loss was the final high-school game for seniors Lopez, Shields, Harris, Miner, Parker Dean, Nick Hogan, Maison Teeples and Steven Laird. That group helped the Buffs improve vastly over their four-year careers, and Stouder hopes the returning underclassmen will follow their example.
“The eight seniors we had — due credit to them,” Stouder said. “Their work ethic and the intensity they brought to practice each and every day — a lot of this was up to them and the leadership they brought. It was a fun ride and just another step in the right direction for this program. It was down for a little bit, but it’s up-and-coming and hopefully we can keep it that way.”
Tooele 5, Juan Diego 4
Miner didn’t even have to throw a pitch in relief of Freeman to slam the door on the Soaring Eagle (19-8), picking off Adam Kessler at first base for the final out of the game.
It was a case of déjà vu for the Buffaloes, who beat Mountain Crest on Saturday in identical fashion.
“That third-to-first move — it was the exact same thing,” Stouder said. “I brought in Jaxson Miner and all I said was, ‘you know what to do.’ He said, ‘I knew exactly what you meant.’ It worked out. I’ve never seen two games in a row be won on a pick-off move before.”
The Buffs trailed 4-1 entering the top of the fourth inning against the Region 11 champion as Kessler had limited them to a third-inning RBI double by Brett Porthan up to that point. But Tooele scraped together another run in the fourth after Harris reached on an error and scored on a single to left by Miner against reliever Campbell Magrane.
Then, THS seized the lead against Magrane in the sixth with a patient approach at the plate. Brandon Vorwaller walked, Shields singled, Harris hit into a fielder’s choice and Porthan was intentionally walked to load the bases with two outs before Magrane ran into control issues. He hit Griffen Bate with a pitch to score Vorwaller, and he walked Miner and Laird to bring in Harris and Porthan.
Freeman pitched 1 2/3 innings in relief of Porthan, but ran into a bit of trouble when he walked Rex Jones and allowed a single to Kessler to give the Soaring Eagle runners on the corners. That’s when Stouder called on Miner to finish the job.
Porthan earned the win on the mound, allowing four total runs — two earned — on five hits, four walks and a hit batter with four strikeouts in five innings. He also went 2-for-3 at the plate, while Lopez was 2-for-4.
The Buffaloes entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed from Region 11, but were 2-2 in head-to-head matchups with Juan Diego and 1-2 against second-place Park City this season.
“We had a couple games there that took us out of the region championship, but I thought we were just as good as anyone else, if not the best team in our region,” Stouder said.