SALT LAKE CITY — The Skyline Eagles' baseball program continues to soar in its quest to reach even greater heights.
Skyline got a strong pitching performance from senior southpaw Bridger Nielson, while juniors Dimitri Sakellariou and Abe Yagi combined for seven RBIs as the Eagles clinched at least a share of their third region championship in four years with an 8-4 victory over Murray on Tuesday.
The two teams tangle again Wednesday at Murray, where the Spartans (9-2 Region 7, 14-6 overall) could claim a share of the Region 7 title with a win. Another victory by Skyline (10-1, 19-5), which has already earned the league's No. 1 seed for the upcoming 4A state tournament, would wrap up the region crown outright for the high-flying Eagles, who took league titles in 2011 and '12 and went on to capture the first state baseball championship in school history two years ago.
"It's pretty exciting to see where this program has come from a few years ago to where we are today," Skyline coach Erik Hansen said. "I knew we could be here this year, and these kids have really stepped up this season.
"I knew the potential was there; we just had to find it and harness it. But these kids have always believed in themselves."
Hansen cited a preseason win over Mountain Crest in the Snow Canyon Classic, where late-inning home runs by Jake Dobecki and Andrew Bourgeois fueled a 7-5 come-from-behind victory, as the catalyst that catapulted the Eagles to another stellar season.
"We came together as a team that day," Hansen said. "We could see the potential that this team had, and with each win in the region, we built a little more confidence in ourselves.
"We knew we had the talent; we knew we had the ability — we just had to go out and do it."
Nielson pitched a complete-game victory, allowing seven hits with three walks and seven strikeouts. He ran his sparkling record to 8-0 this year and hasn't lost a game over the last two seasons.
"That was our goal coming into the season," Nielson said of winning the region title, "and it feels amazing.
"Our one-through-nine guys hit well today, so give them the credit. Our infield was solid and made some plays behind me, and our outfield did, too.
"We have a great pitching staff," Nielson, whose fastball and slider were his most effective pitches in Tuesday's win, said in looking ahead to the state tournament. "We have a great infield, we have a great outfield, and we have great bats, too. And if our pitchers are matched up right against our opponents, I think we have a really good chance against anybody."
Skyline struck first in the second inning when Dobecki led off with a single, Levi Mumford and Jake VanAmen each drew walks, and Sakellariou punched a two-out, two-run single up the middle for a 2-0 lead.
Murray squared it at 2-2 in the fourth when Rigby Butikofer doubled down the left-field line, Zach Collins crushed an RBI double that carried to the center-field fence, and Preston Hannay hit a run-scoring single to left.
But Skyline took the lead for good in the bottom of the fourth when VanAmen walked, Sakellariou bounced a double to left field and Yagi's groundout brought VanAmen home to make it 3-2.
Then the Eagles broke it open with a five-run outburst in the fifth inning. Ninth-grader Nick Scott started it off with a one-out walk and advanced on Nielson's bunt single and a throwing error. Scott scored on a wild pitch and, after VanAmen walked again — he had four of them, plus a base hit, and scored twice — Sakellariou stroked another two-run single right up the middle. Bourgeois then walked and Yagi yanked a two-run double into the gap in right-center to make it 8-2.
"That was pretty cool," Sakellariou said of his three-hit, four-RBI day at the plate. "I just try to hit it where it's pitched. That first (two-run single) was a little outside and I just hit it up the middle.
"Last year, I did real bad and had a terrible batting average. I lost my spot in the lineup, but in the summer I started doing good, getting on base by bunting the ball, and got it back.
"That is awesome; that is awesome," he said of winning at least a share of the region title. "We did it in 2012, but I didn't really contribute to that one very much, so it's good for us to get this one on our own."
Murray got a run back in the sixth inning when Ryan Topham drilled a solo homer over the right-field fence. Nielson gave up a couple more hits and a run-scoring groundout by Butikofer in the seventh, but buckled down and pitched his way out of it to nail down the victory.