It had been well over a decade since an American Legion 19-and-under baseball team had called Dow James Memorial Park home.
Wednesday afternoon marked the beginning of a long-awaited chapter in Tooele County’s illustrious baseball history, as the Tooele County Bears took to the field in their familiar navy-and-red uniforms for their first game of the season against Taylorsville. And, what a return it was, as the home team rolled to an 8-3 victory.
“I think we have great depth at each position and on the mound,” Bears coach Nolan Stouder said. “I saw some great swings and good speed. I saw a lot to like.”
The Bears, whose lineup featured some of the top players from Tooele and Stansbury high schools, saw their first five batters of the game all reach base — three of whom scored. The early offense continued in the second inning as 2019 THS graduate Dalton Harris ripped a two-run double to center field and Jaxson Miner added an RBI single to right, stretching the lead to 6-1.
That was more than enough run support for Bears starting pitcher Payton Shields, who allowed two runs on three hits with seven strikeouts, two walks and one hit batter in five innings. Kaden Nicholes, a 2018 Stansbury High graduate, pitched two innings in relief, allowing one run on four hits.
“There’s a lot of things to like,” Stouder said. “We threw a lot of strikes on the mound and competed. We had some great at-bats and drove in runs right away. I think that’s the biggest thing — any team you ever see, those first couple innings not going 1-2-3 in your batting order and putting pressure on your opponent right away. That’s awesome to see.”
The Bears weren’t done, however. In the bottom of the fifth, Clay Freeman reached base on a Taylorsville error and advanced to third base on a passed ball and an obstruction call. He then came in to score on a single to shallow left by Logan Soderborg to put Tooele County up 7-2. In the sixth inning, Miner reached on another Taylorsville error and scored on a two-out single by Soderborg, the team’s No. 9 hitter who finished 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.
It was a strong start for a team filled with players accustomed to being on opposing sides. Wednesday’s contest featured seven current or former Tooele Buffaloes (Shields, Harris, Brett Porthan, Griffen Bate, Miner, Freeman and Brandon Vorwaller) and five current or former Stansbury Stallions (Nicholes, Cache Bentley, Austin Woodhouse, Jaydan Kelsch and Soderborg).
“I think there were some jitters still, actually,” Stouder said. “They’re all meshed together and this was their first time kind of showing off to each other. I really liked what I saw and I think all the coaches liked what they saw.”
The Bears will travel to Corner Canyon High School in Sandy on Saturday for a pair of games. They will face Corner Canyon at 1 p.m. before playing against Skyline at 4 p.m. Tooele County’s next home game is Wednesday at 6 p.m. against Herriman.