By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Dave Argyle (www.dbaphotography.com) & Kurt Johnson
OREM – The fifth inning told much of the story Friday as the Pleasant Grove High baseball team won its first state championship since 1998. The Vikings used a four-run fifth in the ultimate championship game Friday evening to seize the upper hand in a 6-2 win over Bingham, but it was a fifth inning a little earlier in the day that had a lot to say about this state champion.
Sitting in the winners bracket and needing just one win over the Miners to lock up the big trophy, Pleasant Grove did not look much like the team that had compiled a 26-2 record during the day’s initial contest. Bingham took advantage of four Viking errors in building an 8-2 advantage Friday morning, but things started to change in the home half of the fifth.
To that point, Miner lefthander Sean Keating had kept the Pleasant Grove bats at bay, but a trio of walks sandwiched around a Ben Eldredge run-scoring double seemed to awaken the Viking offense. Keating got a pair of strikeouts and was on the verge of escaping with minimal damage, but consecutive base hits by Zach Peterson, Logan Hooley and Tate Briggs got Pleasant Grove within a single run at 8-7.
That was the end of the scoring for that contest, as Bingham held on for the win to force a rematch later in the day, an elimination game for both teams. That fifth frame, however, showed that the resilience these Vikings have shown all year long was present at Brent Brown Ballpark at Utah Valley University Friday.
Game 1 didn’t even need to be that close, as the Miners left the bases loaded in each of the first two innings. They led 3-1 after two, but it could have been a much wider margin.
Bingham scored its first inning run without hitting the ball out of the infield, with a pair of infield singles, a fielder’s choice on an attempted sacrifice bunt and a walk. Doubles by Braydan Diddle and Kade Cloward were the impetus for two in the second stanza, and Cloward had another two-our run-scoring two-bagger in the third.
The Vikings then contributed heavily to their own demise with three errors in the Miners’ three-run fourth. That put the lead at 7-1 and it seemed the rout was on, at least until it all got tight in the fifth.
With the “if” game necessitated by the Bingham win, the Vikings found themselves right back where they had been one year ago, and that gave them one more chance to bat in a fifth inning. The Miners started Game 2 by seizing the advantage once again after plating a pair of runs in the bottom half of the second inning. Those two runs scored on a wild pitch and a double-play ground ball, but that was enough to get Bingham a lead.
An RBI single by Chase Merrell got Pleasant Grove on the scoreboard in the fourth, but it was in the fifth that the Vikings took the lead and put some distance between themselves and the Miners. After two outs in the inning, lead-off man Easton Walker legged out an infield single, and he was followed by Eldredge with a base hit. Both of them scored on a Payton Henry double to deep center field that just barely eluded the grasp of Matt Degn.
After a walk, Merrell doubled home two more to set the Pleasant Grove lead at 5-2 and that was all the Vikings needed.
After struggling to get his curveball over the plate in the early innings, Pleasant Grove starter Derek Wall got that pitch going in the third inning. With the breaking ball to balance a big fastball, the right-handed shut down Bingham into the sixth, when a hit batter and a walk put two on with one out. At that point, the Vikings called Henry out from behind the plate and gave him the ball to close things out with a heater that clocked as high as 89 on the gun.
Henry was 4-for-4 at the plate in the game, sharing offensive honors with Merrell, who drove in four runs in the 6-2 win that sealed the state title for Pleasant Grove, a year after the Vikings fell short by a single run in the state tournament finale.