KEARNS — Just five short weeks into the 2014 high school baseball season, and the competition is already beginning to heat up.
In a fiery, defensive battle between two of the strongest teams in Region 6, Kearns edged out region foe Woods Cross, 4-2, at Gates Field Wednesday night to leapfrog the Wildcats and land in first place in the region standings.
“Our kids just put a quality, seven-inning game together. They just played all seven innings,” Kearns coach Dave Ballard said. “We told them coming into this region, they were going to have to win some one-run ballgames, and they just put it all together.”
The Cougars (7-5, 5-0) got up on the board in the first two innings to take an early 2-0 lead, but a talented Wildcats squad played small ball until it could make some noise and get back into the game.
Woods Cross’ Josh Cowley and Caden Brown both came up big in the top of the fourth inning by cracking two towering shots in the left-center gap, bringing home two runs and tying the game at 2-apiece.
The Wildcats (8-6, 3-1) continued their small-ball rally well into the sixth inning and had many chances to win the game, until Kearns’ senior center fielder Jordan Lucero spoiled their hopes.
Lucero chased down a towering shot by Cowley and made a spectacular, double-play diving catch to empty the bases and basically secure the region victory for the home team.
“When I was with him (Lucero), I told him that it was just a huge momentum gainer for us,” Ballard said of his center fielder’s game-sealing catch. “For the littlest guy on the field to get up on the fence, hose it in to our shortstop (Reily Sanborn) and have a perfect relay was just a big momentum gainer for us.”
Kearns starting pitcher Nate Seltsam didn’t have his best night on the mound, but his precise location and control were downright flawless, and he wasn’t about to surrender the ball to anyone — literally.
“When I went to take him out in the sixth inning and took the baseball, he just looked me dead in the eyes and said, ‘Coach, give me the ball back,’" Ballard said. "When you have a kid that looks you dead in the eyes and wants the ball, you’ve got to give it to him. ... He had a great game."
Seltsam responded to the opportunity by finishing with the complete-game victory with five strikeouts and a double.
“A win like this is huge for us,” said Ballard. “Woods Cross has been a solid program for a lot of years, and to be a solid program like Woods Cross is a huge win for us.
Ryan Love is a full-time student at the University of Utah studying communications, and has been a part-time sportswriter and scoreboarder for the Deseret News since Oct. 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724