WEST JORDAN — This could very well have been a state championship showdown between two tradition-rich prep baseball programs, Bingham and Taylorsville, who have both been perennial powerhouses in the Beehive State for many years.
Instead, it was a win-or-go-home battle between two proud teams who produced one of the most thrilling finishes in this year's 5A state tournament.
Taylorsville struck for five runs in the sixth inning to take a 5-1 lead, then held off a furious Bingham comeback bid in the Miners' final at-bat to grab a dramatic 5-4 victory Wednesday night, keeping the Warriors alive in the one-loss bracket at Salt Lake Community College's Cate Field.
"It definitely got close at the end," Taylorsville coach Jake Brown said with a sigh of relief. "We know Bingham; we've played Bingham for a couple of years now, and you know they're always going to make it close. They're a class program, they compete every time out, and that's why they've had so much success there. At no point did we think we were going to just skate through this (game) unchallenged, and that's a testament to their program.
"But at the same time, we were ready for that challenge. We wanted the ball tonight and we wanted to be in that situation. We've got a bunch of real tough kids in here that have worked a long time and put in the hours, and they think they're good enough. And that makes a huge difference when those tight situations come up — having kids that know they've earned the right to be here and think that they're gonna win."
With the win, Region 2 champion Taylorsville (22-7) — which whipped Jordan 11-1 earlier Wednesday — moves into today's tourney semifinals at Kearns High's Gates Field, where the Warriors will play at 1:30 p.m. in another do-or-die duel against the loser of the championship-bracket semifinal matchup between American Fork and Alta, who tangle at 11 a.m. today.
Taylorsville got a strong pitching performance earlier in the day from Dallas Carroll, who stopped Jordan by allowing one run on five hits with six strikeouts and a walk.
Brown credited he and Hayden Heugly for both coming through big-time on a day when the Warriors had to win — twice — or go home.
"He was great," Brown said of Heugly, "and, I mean, it's our senior group that's just carried us through this. We've got a lot of young guys playing some great roles, but our seniors have stepped up huge. And we knew today we had two seniors on the mound. We like 'em both about the same and we were looking at who matches up with who better.
"And with Dallas against Jordan this morning and Hayden against Bingham tonight, they both were just great for us, especially coming off a rough outing for Hayden last week. We knew he'd rebound and we knew he'd come out and compete for us, and he was excellent today."
The American Fork-Alta winner will advance into Friday's championship finale needing one more win to take home the state title.
Heugley, a senior right-hander, handcuffed Bingham to one run on six hits through the first six innings, but the Miners' own stellar senior right-hander, Brady Lail, allowed just two hits through his first five shutout innings.
But Heugly led off the Warriors' game-winning rally with a double down the left-field line, and Dallas Carroll promptly bashed a two-run homer to left field to suddenly give Taylorsville a 2-1 lead.
"It's well up there," Carroll said in ranking the go-ahead homer on his personal list of best all-time blasts. "It might even be No. 1, just because that's a good pitcher, good arm, I don't even remember the last time we beat 'em, ever since I was a freshman, so it feels good to beat 'em, especially in this type of atmosphere."
But the Warriors weren't done yet in that inning, as Dalton Carroll walked, stole second, and scored on an RBI single by Larenz Stansfield. Jackson Roper then singled, and Stansfield came around to score on a Bingham error. Adam Fullmer's fielder's choice then brought home Roper with the fifth run of the inning to make it 5-1.
"I just thought I could give my team some momentum," Dallas Carroll said, "but as you could see, that wasn't the only thing that led to our win. The other runs that our team batted in helped us get that one-run victory. That little bit of momentum helped our team win, but it wasn't the only thing."
Coach Brown was mighty proud of Heugly's performance on the mound, and at the plate, too, with his leadoff double that started the decisive rally.
"He's not our best hitter but he's a competitive kid," Brown said. "And if you keep giving him chances, he's gonna figure it out and eventually he's gonna come through. They'd been beating him with that curveball and I think he swung through one of them and the crowd kind of giggled because the ball bounced in front of home plate.
"And then two pitches later, he's doubling down the line and then three pitches later we're up 2-1. That's the kind of group we've got; we never blink when it comes time for the confidence-check. We always feel like we're going to come out on top.
"When the bottom of our lineup gets on, we've got some kids at the top that can bang," Brown said. "And Dallas did that today; he ran into one at the right time. And that's our two seniors, jumping out and taking the lead and putting this team on their backs, and they've done that all year."
But — Bingham being Bingham — the Miners refused to quit.
Jacob Druce led off the seventh with a walk and Nate Bloxham doubled. Riley Hansen's long fly ball brought home a run, and P.J. Goff singled. Lund followed with an RBI single to make it 5-3 and, after a fielder's choice resulted in the second out, Max Dimick smacked a run-scoring single to right to make it 5-4. But with Bingham's cleanup hitter, Connor Williams, at bat with two runners in scoring position, reliever Jake Greenberg struck out Williams on a 3-2 count for the game's final out.
Bingham, last year's 5A champion, staged a big last-at-bat rally with six runs in the seventh inning to beat Syracuse 9-4 earlier Wednesday. But the Region 4 champs finish their season at 23-6 with the disappointing defeat that night.
"We ask 'em to play hard and they compete, respect the game and we feel like we give ourselves a chance," said Bingham coach Joey Sato, fighting back tears. "We're proud of them.
"That's a special group of seniors and we'll miss them. They provided really good leadership and have been the backbone of our team, actually some of them even as juniors, their leadership and their work ethic. I really feel bad for them, really a special group for us, so we'll miss 'em a lot."
Heugly had a great time both on the mound and in his final time up to bat, and he knew Bingham would battle back before it was over.
"They always do that," he said. "I figured they'd make a push. It was a little nerve-wracking at first but we got it done.
"It was a fun game. I felt good until the last inning. I got tired and started throwing some balls, but it felt good, it felt real good today.
"That felt good, too," Heugley said of his rally-starting double. "That was fun, just to help myself out a little bit and get the team going."
Heugly was delighted to see Greenberg get that last out, especially against a great hitter like Williams — "Jake threw a good pitch, he made a really good pitch," Heugley said — and felt the Warriors would find a way to pull out a win in Wednesday's clash with the Miners.
"The whole tournament our team's had a lot of confidence," he said. "We felt like we were pretty good and we could beat anyone. We knew eventually we would break through and we were just waiting for it to happen."
Dallas Carroll was glad to see Greenberg nail down the Warriors' win so they could continue their season today.
"He's a good hitter," Carroll said of Williams. "We knew they were going to put up a fight that last inning, but we knew our pitcher would put up a fight, too.
"I'm just excited we got the win — last high school season and I'm not ready for it to end. No one expected us to make it this far, so we're turning doubters into believers now."