SPANISH FORK — Preseason prep baseball games don't generally draw much of a crowd, especially on an overcast day.
But this was not just your everyday prep baseball matchup, either.
No, this was Bingham and Spanish Fork — two perennial powerhouse programs, both of them defending state champions with plenty of star power on their respective rosters, including several young men who will be playing college ball and possibly even professional baseball someday.
So it's no wonder that the stands at Nelson Field were filled to near-capacity for Thursday's non-league game between these two dynamic diamond dynasties, with enough professional and college scouts on hand to field a team of their own.
And what they saw was Bingham senior right-hander Connor Williams handcuff Spanish Fork for four innings and bolster his own cause by blasting a run-scoring double and an RBI triple in the Miners' 4-0 victory over the previously undefeated and nationally ranked Dons.
"I've just been hitting the ball really well and just put a good swing on it and hit it hard," said Williams, who got both of his big hits with two outs.
And while Williams' bat was the biggest difference-maker in the outcome, his pitching performance was also solid, as he overcame some early wildness — three walks in the first inning and six in all — and struck out seven, allowing just one hit.
"I just came out a little tight and after a few innings I started loosening up and then I started pounding the (strike) zone pretty well," he said, admitting that having all those scouts in attendance might have given him a bit of an adrenaline rush. "I try not to focus on that too much. … I've just got to try and ignore that and play the game.
"That's a big win for us but nothing really starts counting until region, so it's a good win for us and we just need to keep building off of it."
Williams pitched his way out of serious trouble two times with the bases loaded, getting a big strikeout when he needed it, and twice he was able to retire Spanish Fork slugger Kayden Porter with runners in scoring position.
"He's a competitor and he rises to the occasion quite often," Bingham coach Joey Sato said of Williams.
"We've seen that in basketball, too, and we knew he'd compete. We knew he'd go out there and throw a quality pitch when he needed to and he managed to do that."
Williams and Spanish Fork starter Brady Corless hooked up in a scoreless duel through the first four innings before Bingham broke through in the fifth.
Brennon Lund got things going with a single to left, advanced to second on a wild pitch and, with two outs, hustled home when Josh Sandquist smacked a single up the middle to score Lund with the game's first run.
Williams followed with a double in the right-center gap to make it 2-0.
Skinny senior right-hander Parker Green came on in the fifth frame and threw two shutout innings for Bingham, allowing just one hit, and the Miners struck gold with two more runs in the seventh when — again with two outs — Sandquist walked and Williams hit a towering drive off the right-field fence for a run-scoring triple. Jake Druce drove Williams home with an RBI single to left to make it 4-0, and Bingham's Brady Lail came on to finish things off on the mound with a 1-2-3 seventh.
Sato said this win wasn't about making any kind of statement as it was about playing against a great team coached by his Spanish Fork counterpart, Jim "Shoe" Nelson.
" 'Shoe' and I are good friends," Sato said. "It's the preseason, it's a quality program, and you play people like that to find out where you're at. It doesn't really mean a whole lot.
"They're nationally ranked — we might've hurt that — and I'm kind of bitter because it's nice to see a Utah team ranked in the top three in the country, and when they get a loss it seems to (drop them). So if they'd have beat us, they'd have stayed there or moved up, and I like that.
"We had some great performances by some kids. … You might have seen four of the top guys in the state out here today. It was nice to have some good at-bats against them and have our kids step up a little bit," Sato said. "But it's not about beating a nationally ranked team. We're good friends, we want to play quality teams, we want to play good friends and good guys like them."
Sato admitted that having all the scouts on hand might've made some of his players feel a little more pressure to perform.
"How could you not?" he said. "In pregame, I saw a couple of our kids were a little bit hyper, a little bit too pumped up, and they had to take a step back and take a deep breath and realize that it's still a game and you've got to focus on what's going on between the lines instead of what's going outside over here (where all the scouts were watching). … We knew it was going to be like this, so we told our kids 'Hey, there's probably going to be some people down there, just be ready. But it's still a game between the lines, so just go play and enjoy the ride down there.' "
Coach Nelson certainly wasn't devastated by the setback, his team's first loss after a 9-0 start. And he gave the Miners all the credit for dealing the Dons their first defeat.
"I've never said that we deserved to be where we were ranked nationally," he said. "The reason why we were ranked where we are nationally is because of what we've done the last couple of years. We were 9-0 going into today. By no stretch of the imagination do I think that we're probably deserving of being ranked nationally, but we got ourselves there because of how successful we've been in the past and so far this year.21 comments on this story
"If you're gonna lose, lose to somebody that's good and somebody that beat ya. They beat us, they were better than us. That's just the way it was. My hat goes off to them. They're the ones that got the two-out hits, and they scored all their runs on two-out hits like that.
"Both teams are outstanding teams, there's no doubt about it," Nelson said. "Bingham's got us the last three years. They've kinda got our number a little bit, but heck, they've got a lot of people's number. … Williams is a heck of a player and he came through for 'em. Their studs were studs today."