Story and photos by Kurt Johnson
AMERICAN FORK – With a one-run lead late in Tuesday’s game against the American Fork High baseball team, Lehi seemed poised for a breakthrough victory. The Pioneers, coached by Jason Ingersoll, the brother of American Fork manager Jarod Ingersoll, are seeking a spot among the playoff teams in a highly competitive Region 4, and a win in the initial contest of a three-game series against one of the league’s Top 3 would have been a huge lift.
Instead, the Cavemen tied the game and then plated six runs in the top half of the ninth inning to claim an 11-5 win. It was the fourth consecutive victory for American Fork, which has lost just four times this season, all of those coming at the hands of region-leading Pleasant Grove.
For Lehi, which won two-of-three in each of its two season-opening series (against Riverton and Herriman), the breakthrough would have to wait. In fact, its chance at that important win waited an additional day as rain moved Wednesday’s game to high noon Thursday at the home of the Cavemen.
Unfortunately, the start of the Thursday game resembled far too closely the final inning of the Tuesday matchup, and after falling behind big early, the Pioneers were unable to remain competitive before dropping a 17-1 decision in a game shortened to five innings by the 10-run mercy rule. Starting pitcher Tyler James did not survive the first inning for Lehi, but it was far from a one-player problem.
After American Fork pitcher Turner Knight set down Lehi in order in the top half of the first, the Cavemen responded with a 10-run stanza. It all started harmlessly enough, but a line drive to right field eluded the outfielder’s grasp, and after a walk, what looked like a tailor-made double-play ball was misplayed at second base.
An inning that could have been over quickly instead saw the floodgates open for the home team. Dallin Searle singled while attempting to move the runners along with a bunt, and then Tyler Gardner drove in another run with a single. Seth Taylor also tried to give himself up for an out, but confusion on the infield allowed him to reach base as well with another bunt single.
Jake Norton and Hagen Holmstead each delivered a two-run double in the first, and Knight lifted a sacrifice fly as the Cavemen put the game out of reach before Lehi had a second chance to swing its bats.
The Pioneers helped American Fork tag on seven more runs in the second, after Gardner led off the inning with a double, walks, hit batters and three run-scoring passed balls all contributed to the Lehi nightmare. Add on a run-scoring single by Hayden Wood and a second double from Gardner that drove in the last two runs of the second, and you had a 17-0 score after just two frames.
In the meantime, Knight set down the first nine batters he faced, and allowed just two hits total – a lead-off single by Cameron Grace to open the fourth and a base hit by Stockton Birch that loaded the bases with one out in the fifth. Tyler Willes followed that hit with a sacrifice fly that broke up the shutout, just before a strikeout ended the game.
UPDATE – Friday’s series finale
Lehi had one last chance at that breakthrough win when Jason James pitched a gem in the return game at Lehi to close out the series Friday afternoon. James tossed a no-hitter through five innings, but despite knocking out eight hits in the game, the Pioneers were not able to get the big hits that would deliver victory.
Knight got the first American Fork hit in the sixth, and the Cavemen scored the game’s first two runs on a Kody Hall single and a bases-loaded walk to Holmstead.
Lehi answered with a single tally in the bottom of the sixth, as a Blake Smith two-bagger and a single by James got the Pioneers within one run at 2-1. Grace, Smith and James each had two hits in the game, but it turned out to be short of what Lehi needed as it fell 3-1.
The Cavemen took advantage of an error with a sacrifice bunt in the seventh, as Knight singled home the game’s final run and American Fork had a big Region 4 sweep.
Lehi (9-6 overall, 4-5 in Region 4) has a very important three-game set with Westlake coming up next week, followed by a bye week from league play before finishing its season against the top two teams in the region, Lone Peak and Pleasant Grove. The Cavemen (11-4, 5-3) have Lone Peak coming up for three games next week.