Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — On a field that has been their temporary home this season, the Olympus baseball team made a statement that it’s no longer a program without direction.
Under the guidance of their third coach in four years, the Titans certainly didn’t look like a program adrift Wednesday afternoon as they defeated region rival and defending 4A state champion Skyline 6-1 in their last regular season game.
“This year we were picked to take second to last in our region,” said senior catcher Brock Bettilyon. “This last couple of weeks we’ve played awesome baseball.”
Wednesday’s win was the first for sophomore pitcher Eli Falk, who said he was more excited than nervous about trying to send his team into the playoffs as a third seed.
“I was pumped up,” he said. “Getting the third seed was big. We’ve really been playing well these past couple of series.”
The Titans played well Wednesday, starting by scoring two runs in their first at-bat. The defense only made one fielding error and gave up a home run to Ryan Clark, which turned out to be the Eagles’ lone run scored in the third inning. Olympus enjoyed a huge sixth inning that started with a frightening moment as Nate Mayer was hit in the head as the lead-off batter. He stole second and then scored when a Skyline outfielder misplayed Connor Crandall’s shot to center field, which put him on third base.
New head coach Mark Rongstad believes the players have gained confidence with each success this season. He credited team leaders like Bettilyon for helping him bring structure and high expectations back into the Titan clubhouse.
“He’s really, really developed into a leader this season,” Rongstad said of Bettilyon. “He’s really taken that leadership role seriously. He’s very supportive and really positive.”
Bettilyon said it was difficult to endure a new coach each season of his high school career.
“It’s been a challenge,” he said smiling. “Just getting used to their different philosophies is tough to do. Four years in a row, and I just kind of got used to going out and doing my thing.”
Rongstad coached in Chicago for 14 years and was working at the Granite District when the job came open. While many coaches might avoid a program in the midst of turmoil, Rongstad said he saw it as a perfect opportunity.
“It’s been kind of a hectic thing,” he said. “But I knew that the school is so great, the district was great, and it’s a great baseball community.”
In fact, he’d developed a plan to build a program, and this situation gave him the opportunity to use it.
“We’re making progress,” he said of how it’s worked. “We’ve played very well, especially lately. Their confidence level in the last three weeks has really improved.”
While all of the players had stepped up their contributions, he singled out Bettilyon, senior pitcher Ramsey Kiefer and junior pitcher Chase Manning as being key in the team’s success.
Falk, one of the team’s emerging talents, said he was “losing command” of his fastball near the end of the sixth inning, so he had no problem when coaches allowed Kiefer to pitch the final inning.
Kiefer threw the final inning, striking out two batters and giving up one walk. He won Tuesday’s game against Skyline in a 4-3 decision, and boasts a 1.24 ERA and a 4-0 record this season.
“He just came in and closed out for us,” said Rongstead. “The kid’s right there with the best pitchers.”
Bettilyon said the players have a lot of confidence in Kiefer’s abilities as a starter or a closer.
“It’s so nice to have that ace in our line-up,” he said. “I think he’s only given up like three runs, which is incredible.”
Kiefer said the victory meant a lot to the team that is finally feeling like the worst is behind it.
“This win is big-time,” he said, grinning. “We go into the tournament with a little more confidence.”