Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
WEST JORDAN — It was only 48 hours ago when Copper Hills’ Zach Hoffman blew the game.
The junior entered the seventh inning in the second game against Alta on Wednesday and beaned the first batter he faced. He walked the second. And the third. And the fourth. In a matter of moments, without a single hit, the Hawks had won.
That was 48 hours ago.
The lefty took the mound Friday in the rubber match of the three-game series with Alta. Undeterred by the devastating performance two days prior, Hoffman wound up and blazed the opening batter. It was a different ballgame. This time, Hoffman pitched 6 1/3 innings — striking out five — as the Grizzlies won their fifth game in six tries, 4-3.
“I just let it go right after it happened. I just didn’t think about it,” Hoffman said in a soft-spoken tone. “ Don’t worry about what happened last game — just go (out and play).”
“I’m really proud of him — he’s a great young man,” Copper Hills skipper John Morgan added. “I told him how proud I am that he didn’t bring (Wednesday’s) game into this game. He pitched a heckava game.”
The Hawks certainly provided quite the scare in the seventh inning, however. Alta moved runners to second and third following a walk and a single by Braydon Goddard. With a two run lead, Morgan decided to leave Hoffman on the dirt rather than call to the bullpen. The ensuing batter, Chipper Lucero, ripped an RBI double to the fence to pull within one, 4-3, with one out.
“I was kind of saying not again,” Morgan said. “We’re a young team and the games we’ve lost this year have been in the sixth and seventh innings on an error or mistake at the end of the game.”
Knowing Hoffman’s gas meter was hovering on empty, Morgan handed the ropes to Caden Hardcastle.
The closer delivered. Hardcastle forced the ensuing batters into a lineout to second and a groundout at first for the save.
“(To) bring him into a situation like that with a guy on second and third and do what he did. Come on, that’s just huge,” Morgan said. “ I didn’t think I could get anymore gray than I am — but I am.”
The Grizzlies struck first in the second. After Riley Akers doubled, Tanner Johnson put the ball in play to short. As he sprinted to beat the throw, the would-be out was mishandled with an errant toss to first, for the opening run. Copper Hills extended the lead, 2-0, on Hoffman’s sac-fly in the third.
That’s where it got tricky.
The Hawks brought across their first run in the fourth on Gabe Farrer’s sac-fly with the bases loaded and no outs. It was looking awful dreary.
With runners in scoring position, Alta’s 6-foot-7 first baseman, Brett Snyder, cranked a lingering pitch that at first glance appeared headed towards outer space. Quickly backtracking, Copper Hills’ Nick Heath went airborne — aware of an oddly placed hill as the warning track — and fully extended to make the grab.
“When he first hit it I thought the ball was out of the park. As you can see on our berm back there, if you don’t know how to play it — you hit that and fall down,” Morgan said. “He made an excellent catch and the runner made a mistake by going to third and he had to go back. Our defense is playing well.”
The Hawks eventually evened things at 2-2 the next inning on Jesse Emery’s RBI single. But it didn’t take long for Copper Hills to respond.
Using the bat named “Rebecca” — a bat players prompted media to ask postgame questions to — Akers slapped an RBI into center field to bring home what proved to be the winning run. Jake Boyd added an RBI double in the sixth.
“Try to improve to get better for the playoffs,” Morgan said of his growing team. “That’s our goal right now is to get better and better and be ready to play in the playoffs.”
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