Players and coaches on the Gunnison Bulldogs baseball team stretch out their hands toward their trophy after winning their first state championship since 2012.

Gunnison Bulldogs win 2A championship and break “Kearns Curse”

 

Robert Stevens

Managing editor

5-18-2017

 

KEARNS—The Gunnison Valley Bulldogs used four big guns to shoot down Beaver and Grand County last week, break the grip of the so-called “Kearns Curse” and take the 2A state baseball championship.

The four big guns were the school’s pitching artillery consisting of Parx Bartholomew, Jaden Mayne, Gage Mogle, and Drew Hill.

All four made major contributions towards besting Beaver, 3-1, and then Grand County by 7-5 on Friday and 9-4 on Saturday.

Having a staple of capable pitchers prevented the team from being hampered new Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) rules that mandate a pitcher take up to three days of rest after throwing a certain number of pitches.

The three wins not only earned the Bulldogs their first 2A state title since 2012 but broke the “Kearns Curse,” a legend based on the fact that Gunnison Valley, in all seven 2A state baseball tournaments held at Kearns High School since 2009, had lost every game. The eighth tournament, it seems, was the charm.

“It was an unbelievable journey filled with many priceless memories,” head coach Jared Anderson said. “Our players were focused and played with determination and passion throughout the whole season.

They had one goal in mind and put forth effort during the whole season to make this dream come true.”

With a 3-1 victory over Beaver on Thursday, May 11, Gunison broke the Kearns curse by finally winning a state tournament game held at Kearns. To get the win , Mayne struck out 14 batters, while  the Bulldogs only allowed Beaver a single run in the first inning. Gunnison racked up three in the third. No runs were scored after that, so Gunnison coasted to the win.

“The win got the monkey off our back with the curse gone,” Anderson said. “I told my boys, ‘Now that we have the first win behind us, we might as well just win the whole thing.’”

Under the new UHSAA rules, the 107 pitches Mayne threw on Thursday eliminated him from playing in the two final tournament games. But his performance paved the way for his team remaining undefeated so it moved on to face Grand.

The first of the Bulldogs’ two tournament wins against main competitor Grand County came on Friday, May 12. The Bulldogs can thank Hill and Mogle for the 7-5 win. Not only did the two seniors pitch a great game, but Hill also led the way from the plate, scoring four out of seven runs.

Anderson said the biggest play of the game was when Bowen Jensen made the final out in left field to drive a nail into Grand’s coffin. Up to that point, Grand was undefeated in tournament play.

“I was so proud of Bowen Jensen,” Anderson said. “It was an intense game with a ticket into the state championship on the line.”

After being booted into the one-loss bracket in the double-elimination tournament, Grand lashed out hard, winning 9-5 over the Kanab Cowboys to get a shot at redemption in a final game against Gunnison.

Saturday’s rematch began at 12:30 p.m. with strong winds whipping across the field, and shifting speed and direction. But Gunnison seemed to have an antidote to the weather in the form of community supporters filling the bleachers.

“We saw this huge wave of blue pour into the stadium,” Anderson said.  “It felt like the whole community of Gunnison Valley was walking in to be a part of the state championship game. It really calmed my nerves and made me extremely proud to part of such a supportive community.”

If the high winds had a negative impact on sophomore starter Bartholomew’s pitching game, he didn’t let it show.

Bartholomew pitched eight strikeouts, and his 109 pitches were exactly one pitch fewer than the maximum allowed under the new UHSAA pitch rules.

When regulations reeled in Bartholomew, Mogle stepped in to relieve him in the sixth, holding Grand to only one additional run on four hits.

Pitching was the bread and butter of the three victories, but Saturday’s game also saw an offensive explosion in the fourth inning. The team loaded the bases, and Bartholomew, Peterson, Mogle, and both Drew and Ty Hill made their bats crack to rack up five points.

“Our bats came alive,” Anderson said.

With the fourth inning burst and other points sprinkled through the game, Gunnison held a three-point lead going into the final inning.

With Grand at bat, and with two out in the seventh inning, Ty Hill leapt up to catch the game-ending ball, sealing the deal on the state title, Gunnison Valley’s first in five years.

The team rushed out in unison to meet Hill and fall into a celebratory dogpile. After emerging, Hill handed the game-winning ball to Anderson, and player and coach shared an emotional hug.

“It’s such a great feeling,” senior Drew Hill said after the victory. “The last time was 2012 when we got it done. It’s been our goal since day one. Not only did we break the Kearns Curse, we shattered it. Grand was gutsy, though, and they played a hell of a grand game.”

Besides taking the 2A title, the Gunnison Bulldogs ended their season as Region 15 champions and sporting a 25-3 overall record.

“I will never forget the feeling of our team and community celebrating a state championship! I love my boys! They did it!” Coach Anderson said.

The Gunnison Bulldogs did not allow recently revised pitch-count rules to keep them from dominating the state championship game last Saturday. Here Gage Mogle strikes out a batter in the seventh inning shortly before the Bulldogs claimed the trophy.

Junior Ty Hill hugs head Bulldog baseball coach Jared Anderson after handing the coach the game-winning ball he had just pluck from mid-air.