RIVERTON — Heading into his team’s final week of region play, Lone Peak coach Matt Bezzant decided to go with his gut and mix up the pitching rotation.
It meant giving the ball to a junior who’d never made a varsity start before Wednesday’s second-to-last Region 4 game of the season, but Bezzant believed Matt Lee deserved a chance.
Lee wasn’t even on the radar to be a pitcher at the start of the year, but little by little he started making an impact at the junior varsity level, and his coaches sensed he was ready to battle varsity hitters.
“He’s been throwing great in JV and competing well against some good hitters and we thought, 'Let’s see what he can do,'” said Bezzant.
It went better than anyone could’ve hoped for. After shaking off a few command issues in the first few innings, Lee settled down and retired the last nine hitters he faced to lead Lone Peak to a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over Riverton.
“I was leaving some of my pitches up high in the first few innings, but I really shrunk it down to the lower part of the plate after that,” said Lee.
After allowing three runs and eight hits over the first four innings, he enjoyed one-two-three innings over the last three frames for the complete-game victory.
“He should have all the confidence in the world (after today) 'cause Riverton is one of the best teams around. He threw great. I couldn’t be more pleased with his effort,” said Bezzant.
Lee needed some late-game heroics to avoid the loss, though, with Riverton leading 3-2 heading into the seventh inning.
Jack Bateman led off the top of the seventh with a slap single and then advanced to third on a double by Hunter Christensen. Ironically enough, in Lone Peak’s marathon 12-inning victory over Riverton on Tuesday, Bateman and Christensen led off the decisive 12th with a single and double, with Bateman eventually scoring the winning run.
On Wednesday, Bateman tied the game at 3-3 on a Tate Hansen RBI single to left, and then Christensen scored the eventual game-winning run as Trevor Lahargoue drew a bases-loaded walk.
“We just thought back to yesterday, to get that leadoff guy on all you have to do is get a slap hit,” said Christensen, who went 2 for 3 with a pair of doubles. “Everyone got loud, and when everyone gets loud and comes together as a team that’s when you come through.”
Lone Peak had a chance to tack on more insurance runs, but left the bases loaded in the seventh — the fourth time it stranded a runner on third base.
It didn’t matter with the way Lee was pitching, even though he certainly got some help from third baseman Grant Lyman.
Riverton’s lead-off hitter in the seventh hit a slow roller up the third-base line, but Lyman made a running scoop with his bare hand and then first baseman Tate Hansen dug it out of the dirt for the putout. Lee made quick work of Riverton’s last two batters.