The Red Devils played neck-and-neck games Thursday, May 9 and Friday, May 10 in the UHSAA Utah State 2A Baseball Championship, but ultimately suffered a pair of extra-inning, one-run losses to bring their season to an end.
Thursday Grand jumped out to a 2-0 lead over underdog Kanab in the top of the first inning, but the Cowboys responded with a run in the first inning and another in the second to tie the game at 2-2. The Red Devils and Cowboys traded runs in the third and fifth innings and headed into extra innings tied at 4-4 before Kanab senior Michael Stewart pushed the winning run across with a squeeze bunt down the first baseline with runners on first and third with one out in the eighth inning to give the Cowboys a 5-4 win and a spot in the state semifinals.
Red Devil senior Preston Walston said the Red Devils were on the lookout for the bunt, but Stewart placed it perfectly down the line and there was nothing they could do as junior pitcher Koi Cook’s throw to home plate was too late to catch Kanab’s Merrill Terry, who also hit an inside-the-park solo home run in the first inning.
“There was just some great baseball played all weekend long,” Red Devil assistant coach Ron Dolphin said. “Kanab played their game of the year against us. They played flawlessly and got the timely hits that we didn’t.”
Kanab went on to lose their next two games 19-1 to eventual state champion Emery and 16-4 to Parowan, who rode the one-loss bracket all the way to the state title game after losing to the Red Devils on Saturday, May 4 in the second round of the tournament.
“It’s not always the best team that wins, it’s the team that plays the best on that day,” Dolphin said.
Friday afternoon’s game had an entirely different script as Beaver jumped out to a 6-0 lead before Grand started a comeback with four runs in the bottom of the third inning. The Red Devils continued to hold Beaver scoreless and tied the game with runs in the fifth inning and seventh inning.
After Beaver got back on the board in the top of the eighth, Beaver ace Sam Myers, who came into the game in relief during the Red Devils’ four-run third inning, struck out the side in the bottom half for the victory.
The Beavers went on to lose 5-0 to Parowan in their next game, perhaps thanks in part to the fact that Myers had already met the 14-inning pitching limit imposed by UHSAA for the weekend.
Dolphin said it was nice to see the Red Devils fight first pitch to last pitch and it’s disappointing that they didn’t get to play on championship Saturday.
“It was just great baseball,” Dolphin said. “We can’t fault our kids in any way, shape or form.”
Walston said the Red Devils gave themselves chances to win, but a highlight-reel catch in the outfield on what Walston described as a sure triple and home run on a less windy day kept the go-ahead run stranded. Dolphin said even the Red Devil fans in attendance applauded the catch, showing sportsmanship and appreciation for the quality of play on display over the weekend.
Walston said he has no regrets having left everything he had on the field.
“My arm is still sore from pitching with everything I had and on my last at-bat I crushed the ball and the guy made a great play on it. At least I didn’t pop out or ground out weakly.”
Despite it coming to an end in dramatic and devastating fashion, Walston said he is still proud of the Red Devils’ accomplishments this season.
“I still feel like it was a great season,” he said. “Those two games were incredibly fun because of how close they were.”
Dolphin said it will hurt to lose the two high-character seniors graduating in Walston and Aaron Lewis, who both plan to go on missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints shortly after graduation, but the Red Devils have more high-character kids ready to step into their spots.
Dolphin said the Red Devils are planning to host a clinic Wednesday, May 15 through Friday, May 17 and are still working out the exact times.
“It just shows you the character of this team,” Dolphin said. “They had a hard exit, but they really just love the game.”