Story and photos by Kurt Johnson
LEHI – With the tight race for the top spot in Region 4 baseball, there was much on the line during the season-ending three-game set between league-leading Lone Peak and Lehi, one of the Knights’ closest pursuers. With American Fork on its bye week, having finished the Region slate at 13-5, Lone Peak needed to win at least two-of-three from the Pioneers to avoid dropping from first place all the way to third heading into the state tournament.
The two teams split the Monday and Tuesday contests, with Lehi winning 6-3 on its home field and the Knights protecting their turf 9-5. That set up a huge battle Wednesday back in the Pioneers’ back yard when a Lehi victory would have deadlocked the Pioneers with Lone Peak and American Fork for a three-way tie atop the region at 13-5.
Having been swept by the Cavemen two weeks ago, a second defeat at the hands of Lehi would have dropped the Knights to the bottom of the tiebreaker. With all of that hanging in the balance, Lone Peak came out banging at the plate and delivered big defensively to claim a 13-5 win and with it, the No. 1 seed in the postseason and a chance at two home games to open the playoffs.
Eli Norman got things started in the top half of the first inning, blasting a two-run home run over the barrier in center field to chase home Keenan Kelshaw who had reached on an error. With right-hander Payton Barney dealing for the Knights and Devin Smith settling in for Lehi after allowing the early damage, the score remained 2-0 until the home half of the third, when the Pioneers got even with a long ball of their own.
Centerfielder Cam Grace walked with two outs and then scored ahead of Tyler James, who launched one just deep enough to clear the wall in left. Faced with a tight battle, Lone Peak picked up the pace with the sticks and pulled away over the course of the next two frames, plating three in the fourth and four more in the fifth to take a 9-2 advantage.
Colton Easton bounced one over the top of a drawn-in infield to score the first two runs in the Knights’ fourth and then Gunner Miller got Easton home with a double. A wild pitch and a passed ball by Lehi each allowed a runner to cross the plate in the fifth frame, when Miller added another two-bagger, this time sending home a pair of teammates.
A great defensive play to end the bottom of the fifth saved Lone Peak from seeing the game get rally tight once again. The Pioneers used back-to-back one-out doubles by Tyler Willes and Drew Zimmerman to get one run back, and then after the Knights recorded a second out, James sent one to the fence in center field for a long run-scoring single.
After a hit batter put two runners aboard, Smith ripped a laser down the left-field line that scored James and sent courtesy runner Jared Anderson racing around in an attempt to score from first base. Left fielder Payton Freeman dug the ball out of the left-field corner and hit Miller with the throw towards home plate. The Lone Peak third baseman turned and delivered the relay to Easton at the dish, where he tagged Anderson out to end the inning and keep the margin at four runs, at 9-5.
After Barney blasted a three-run dinger in the Lone Peak sixth to extend the lead back to 12-5, Freeman had another chance to show off the hose. The Pioneers had two on, with two outs in the home half of the sixth when Zimmerman singled to left field.
With this play in front of him, Freeman bypassed the relay and delivered a strike to Easton, who tagged out the runner at the plate, ending a second consecutive inning with an outfield assist. The Knights added one more in the seventh on a Seth Corry RBI single and then celebrated a region championship.
Freeman was 3-for-5 at the plate for Lone Peak, which had 14 hits in the contest. Miller, Easton, Barney and Corry each had two hits for the Knights.
Lone Peak (14-4 in Region 4, 17-7 overall) will host Region 2 No. 4 seed Viewmont (8-10 in Region 2, 8-16 overall) at 4 p.m. Tuesday to open the 5A state tournament while Lehi (12-6, 17-8) enters the playoffs as the No. 3 seed, which sends the Pioneers on the road to face Region 2, No. 2 Syracuse (14-4, 15-10).