KEARNS — The Cavemen were down to their last two outs, seemingly destined for a disappointing 1-0 defeat in Thursday's championship semifinal game of the 5A state baseball tournament.
But this American Fork ballclub prescribes to the ol' keep-the-faith philosophy, so the Cavemen weren't about to panic or stop believing in themselves.
Instead, they came up with a clutch seventh-inning rally, pushing two huge runs across the plate in their final at-bat to grab a 2-1 victory over Alta that sent A.F. into today's championship finale, where they need just one more win to claim the 5A crown which eluded them last year when they lost to Bingham on the last day.
"I think being there last year and having Bingham beat us definitely fueled our team," said A.F. senior southpaw Blake Brailsford, who picked up the complete-game victory by scattering six Alta hits with three walks and five strikeouts. "It's good to get back there; it's been a fun ride. This is my senior year and it's been amazing.
"It's never over until it's over," Brailsford said, channeling his best Yogi Berra catch-phrase. "You just keep competing the whole time and until that last strike gets thrown for the third out, you know you're never out of a ballgame."
Cavemen coach Jarod Ingersoll echoed that same tough-minded, never-say-die mentality.
"I kept telling them, 'Keep believing, keep believing,' and they did," he said. "... I love Blake. He's done a great job and, you know, we've just been telling everybody to believe and keep thinking that and know that we're gonna get it done and we're not out of it until the last out's recorded. And we did that."
The Cavemen (24-5) will face Region 2 champion Taylorsville (23-7), which eliminated Alta 5-0 in Thursday's second semifinal matchup, today at 11 a.m. at Kearns High School's Gates Field. If Taylorsville wins, the second "if necessary" game would start at 4 p.m., and American Fork would have to lose again to be denied the title.
"It's a good feeling to be in that game because there's some unfinished business," Ingersoll said.
Alta grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Mark Cavaness led off with a walk. Beau Kallas' infield hit pushed him to second, and Brittan Wren smacked a run-scoring single to center field to bring Cavaness home with what turned out to be the Hawks' only run of the day.
Alta's solid, stringbean starter Brett Snyder made that lead stand up for 6-plus strong innings, scattering just four American Fork hits and two walks while striking out six Cavemen batters up to that point.
But after an A.F. batter struck out leading off the seventh inning, the Cavemen put their intense "you gotta believe" motto to the test. And they passed with flying colors.
Zac Haws and B.J. Eldredge, American Fork's No. 8 and 9 hitters, each singled to put runners at first and second with one out. Then leadoff batter Mo Flinders stepped up to the plate and promptly poked a run-scoring single into right field to tie it at 1-1.
"I was just excited to be up," Flinders said. "Everyone wants to be in that situation like that, so I was just excited. I love those situations, it was just exciting.
"I think, (Nos.) 1-through-9, we have tough outs, everyone on our team. I can't say enough about our teammates, everyone is just great. Getting on base is big for us at the end of the game, and the bottom of the lineup pulled through."
Following Flinders' game-tying hit, the next American Fork batter, Riley Ottesen, lofted a fly ball into center field, bringing home Eldredge with the go-ahead run as the American Fork players, coaches and faithful fans roared their approval.