We’ve been a great hitting team all year, so it didn’t surprise me that we responded like we did in the seventh. I’m proud of our guys for not giving up, keeping a good attitude and ultimately coming through in the end. —Ben Byrd, Westlake baseball coach
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Westlake saved its best for last in a 5-4 comeback thriller over visiting Bountiful in the first round of the 4A state playoffs Tuesday. Down 4-0 entering the bottom of the seventh, the Thunder tied it up with four runs and then took the win in the bottom of the eighth on an RBI single from Brycson Christensen.
Christensen lined a pitch to left that scored Daniel Nugent easily from second base to complete the improbable comeback victory.
It was the sort of game-winning hit most players only dream of.
“I just stayed on the ball and got good contact and it worked out,” Christensen said. “It’s definitely the biggest hit of my life and I’m just happy to do it for my team. It just feels incredible right now.”
With ace Ricky Medrano throwing darts from the mound, Bountiful entered the bottom of the seventh seemingly in cruise control.
But then the Thunder bats came alive. Back-to-back singles from Nugent and Christensen to lead off the inning set up Christensen’s identical twin Drayson and his two-RBI triple to cut Bountiful's lead to two runs.
“Medrano is such a great pitcher and he’s definitely one of the best pitchers we’ve seen in a while and he gave us a tough time, but we finally got it going when it mattered most,” said Westlake coach Ben Byrd. “(Medrano) started to leave the ball over the plate a bit and I think we just became more patient there late and they came through.”
Despite yielding three consecutive hits the Bountiful coaching staff decided to stay with Medrano and he responded by recording two consecutive outs. With just one out left to record, however, Westlake responded with consecutive RBI doubles from Jamin Van Sickle and Ian Empey to send the game to extra innings.
“We’ve been a great hitting team all year, so it didn’t surprise me that we responded like we did in the seventh,” Byrd said. “I’m proud of our guys for not giving up, keeping a good attitude and ultimately coming through in the end. It wasn‘t a surprise that it was the identical twins who were a big part of it because they‘re my two hardest-working players.”
Van Sickle also contributed heavily from the mound despite his initial struggles. Two walks, a hit batter and two singles in the first inning alone certainly wasn’t the most promising of starts, but from that point the senior settled down.
Bountiful did tack on two more runs in the top of the fourth and sixth innings on RBI hits from Medrano and Zac Muir, but that was the extent of the damage.
Van Sickle’s effort wasn’t exactly smooth, but it kept his team in striking distance.
“Jamin is more of a ballplayer than a pitcher. He’s a senior and he just knows how to battle,” Byrd said. “He sometimes has rough spots, but we know he’s a guy who has the ability to work through it, settle down and he did just that today.”
With the win Westlake (17-8) moves to the winners bracket and will take on Salem Hills (24-3) Wednesday. Bountiful (12-13) drops to the losers bracket and will take on Roy (11-12.)
“This is obviously a great start for us,” Byrd said. “We’re set up well pitching-wise having rested our ace for the second game, but we know nothing will be given to us. We’re going to have to be just as good and even better as we were today to stay in that winners bracket.”