When the 2021 high school season begins next March, the Tooele baseball team will have just four pitchers who have seen any time on the mound in a varsity game — and only one who has seen more than three innings.
That makes this American Legion season particularly important for the Buffaloes, who are looking to build a pitching staff around returning junior-to-be Jake Hervat, who has 31 innings of varsity experience. It remains a work in progress, as Tooele lost to Roy 8-4 on Wednesday evening — its first defeat in five games this summer.
“I never want to lose, but sometimes you learn something from a loss,” Tooele coach Nolan Stouder said. “I’m sure these guys will. We’ve got a resilient group, so I think they’re going to be excited to get back out there.”
The Buffs (4-1) started the game off well, as Bryson Byrd hit a leadoff single to right and scored on Brett Porthan’s two-out double to give Tooele a 1-0 lead after one inning. The host Royals struggled to get much going against Hervat in their first trip through the lineup, as the Tooele lefty worked his way out of a jam in the first inning and retired all three batters he faced in the second.
The Buffaloes extended their lead in the top of the third with a three-run outburst. Dillon Palmer led off with an infield single, and Porthan drew a walk. After Conner Spindler grounded out, Brock Beer reached on a Roy error that brought Palmer in to score Tooele’s second run. Porthan scored on a groundout by Hervat to make it 3-0, and Mason Donadio’s two-out single to right plated Beer for a 4-0 Buffs lead.
However, Tooele began to run out of steam after that. The Royals scored their first run of the game on a sacrifice fly by Parker Kingston in the bottom of the third. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Marcus Gage’s RBI groundout and Cade Harris’ RBI single pulled Roy within a run and brought Hervat’s day on the pitcher’s mound to a close.
Meanwhile, Tooele’s offense sputtered against Roy reliever Eli Manzanares, who took over in the top of the fourth inning. The Buffaloes had chances, putting six runners in scoring position over the final four innings, but couldn’t drive anyone in. That spelled trouble for the Buffs’ inexperienced pitching staff, as senior-to-be Palmer replaced Hervat on the mound with a one-run lead.
The first three Royals that Palmer faced in the bottom of the fifth all reached base, with two walks sandwiched around a base hit to shallow right. Palmer recovered to strike out Ethan Oliver on three straight pitches, and a sacrifice fly tied the game before Gage struck out to end the inning. But with the top of the lineup leading off the bottom of the sixth, Roy went to work, as Harris hit a leadoff single and Kingston walked.
That led Stouder to replace Palmer on the mound with Beer, who will be a senior in the fall. Jered Davies hit an RBI single to drive in Harris with the go-ahead run, and after a Tooele error loaded the bases, Estes hit a two-run single to stretch the lead to 7-4. Oliver added an RBI single to provide the final margin.
“We kind of hit cruise control a little bit,” Stouder said. “We didn’t take advantage the way we have the first four games. We left a bunch of runners in scoring position, had a bunch of strikeouts, the defense was not super and the pitching was OK. Beating Stansbury (on Monday) was great, but any time you beat your rival, maybe you’re going to have a mental lapse the next game, and that’s on me as much as anyone for not having them ready to go.”
Palmer was credited with the loss, allowing three earned runs on two hits and three walks with two strikeouts in an inning-plus of work. Hervat allowed three earned runs on five hits with three walks and five strikeouts in four innings, and Beer allowed two earned runs on three hits with two strikeouts in one inning. Porthan, Donadio and Austin Avery each went 2-for-3 at the plate, and Byrd was 2-for-4.
Manzanares was the winning pitcher, pitching four shutout innings and allowing just three hits with one strikeout and no walks. Munoz gave up four runs — two earned — on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts in three innings.
The Buffaloes traveled to Helper on Thursday to begin a four-game, three-day tournament that will test their pitching depth. With standouts like Porthan, Clay Freeman, Micah Weight and Kayden Goins having graduated this spring, and returners Palmer, Donadio and Camden Colovich having combined for 6 2/3 innings of varsity pitching experience, Tooele hopes to get an idea of who might fill the remaining spots in the pitching staff next season.
“We’ve got to find some guys to step up, throw a lot of strikes and get outs,” Stouder said. “I can get a lot of these guys out there longer than I would in a normal high school season and put them in situations where they’ve got to get comfortable, so when it does come time for the spring next year, it’s nothing new to them.”
Following the tournament, the Buffs will return home to face Ben Lomond on Wednesday before road games against Bountiful (June 18), Farmington (June 19) and Viewmont (June 22). They will play host to county rival Stansbury on June 24.