OREM—What once seemed to be a Gunnison Valley juggernaut in the UHSAA 2A state baseball tournament finally showed some weaknesses in an early end to an otherwise near-perfect season.
After a first-round bye, Gunnison took the second round at home with a 22-0 trouncing of Milford. Next on Thursday, behind a pitching clinic by Janzen Keisel, the Bulldogs beat Beaver in Spanish Fork, 4-1. This was a big win against the only team that had managed to beat them all season. Unfortunately, the same would not happen two days later, as Beaver got the last laugh with a 13-2 triumph in the eventual elimination game.
“It’s a testament to how good Janzen is as a pitcher,” Coach Max Sanders said of the 16-strikeout performance in the first Beaver matchup. “He pretty well managed that whole lineup as well as you can imagine.”
Next up in the winner’s bracket semifinal, Friday brought rare adversity for the 2021 Bulldogs against Parowan. Still in Spanish Fork, that game lasted almost four hours
“That one was probably as even a match as we’ve played in a while,” Sanders said.
Creed Mogle held the Rams scoreless for two innings as the Bulldogs built a typical early lead. But the Rams made it 5-4 in the third inning by stringing hits together and getting a timely balk to send a runner home.
“They put the ball in play and had tough at bats,” Sanders said. “[Throughout the game], they came up with hits, and we couldn’t make plays when we needed to.”
Gunnison Valley came back with two subsequent strong innings, but Parowan answered again to retake the lead in the sixth. The Bulldogs fought back and tied the game to enter the seventh.
In the final inning, Parowan scored twice by getting runners on base early and capitalizing. Gunnison Valley could not reciprocate, losing only its second game of the season.
Sanders still commended his team’s performance, especially sophomore backup catcher, Colter King, who caught six innings with Mogle on the mound.
“Colter did well behind the plate. The job he did behind the plate was incredible,” the coach said.
The tone of the penultimate game against Beaver started with the change in scenery at the Utah Community Credit Union Ballpark at Utah Valley University. Sanders said the players felt the big-game feel especially when they stepped onto the turf ground for the first time this year.
Neither Keisel nor Mogle, the team’s top pitchers in the rotation, were eligible to pitch on the last day of the tournament, having thrown all of their pitches allowed for the week according to UHSAA rules.
Sophomore Easton Newman started the game and pounded the strike zone, and Sanders complimented his performance. He pitched just over three innings, and Talon Belnap pitched the rest.
Beaver hitters put the ball in play. They smacked it around the field for 12 hits, six of them for extra bases. Gunnison fielders also made uncharacteristic errors.
Sanders said his team may have actually committed more than the four errors the official scorer recorded.
“Sometimes in baseball, the wheels just come off,” he said. “We couldn’t find them to come back on. It was comical how many worst-case scenarios we saw in the fourth inning. We were just caught off guard. Beaver did well on defense, and we didn’t.”
Beaver made it to 10 runs by the fourth inning before Gunnison recorded its first. The Bulldogs loaded the bases twice without managing to score during those innings.
“I joke that sometimes the baseball gods bless you with a good game, and sometimes they almost laugh in your face and send you home,” Sanders said.
Beaver would continue to add runs, and though Gunnison nearly managed to extend the game beyond the mercy-rule minimum length of five innings, the Beaver defense recorded the final out on a pop-out to second base.
“[This year] was fun. I joked after we got beat out that if we could forget about most of the state tournament, it would’ve been almost a perfect season,” Sanders said. “Every single one of them was fun to coach. It was still a blast all season long to be around those kids at practice and games all year.”
He said as much as he enjoyed winning 21 games with his team, his favorite part was spending time with the players, calling them all “quality people.”
Seven seniors will graduate: Janzen Keisel, Creed Mogle, Ryker and Thatcher Stewart, Talon Belnap, Harley Hill and Payton Dyreng.
Next year will be Sanders’s second full season as a head coach after the 2020 season was cut short due to the pandemic. He said despite losing so many standout players, the team will be well-positioned to have another strong year.
“The younger kids learned more from the older kids this year than I could teach them,” he said.
The Beaver Beavers defeated Parowan twice on Saturday to take the 2A state-championship title.