KEARNS — A year after back-to-back extra inning loses deep into the 2A state tournament eliminated Grand from the playoffs, the Red Devils have used that heartache as extra motivation and now they’re one victory away from that elusive state championship.
Junior Kyler Nelson pitched a superb game Saturday evening at Kearns High School, striking out seven and pitching himself out of a six-inning jam to lead Grand to the 5-3 victory over Beaver.
“He did a heck of a job. He got the win against Emery earlier in the year, and I think that was a real boost of a confidence, he beat the No. 1 team in the state. I think he can go out there on any given day and play with anybody,” said Grand coach Jared Meador.
With the victory, Grand advances to Tuesday’s 2A championship game at Utah Valley University at 1 p.m. and will face the winner of Beaver-Emery earlier that day. Emery advanced to the last day of the season with a win over Millard late Tuesday.
Senior Cameron Taylor said he’s not surprised at all that Grand is in a position to win its first state championship since 1999.
“We’re confident in ourselves, we knew we could make it to this point so we just had to stay true to ourselves and be confident and play like we did,” said Taylor, who finished the game 2 for 3 and three RBIs.
His three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth inning broke open a close game, and Nelson made it hold up in the final two innings.
“We think he’s the best pitcher in the state. He’s always been there, he’s always handled those pressure situations well, and he did it again today,” said Taylor.
Through the first four innings, Beaver pitcher Tyler Hoyt matched that intensity with the game tied 1-1 heading into the fifth. It didn’t take Grand long to blow the game open.
Ronnie Dolphin opened the bottom of the fifth with a double, and Grand’s coach quickly had Brayden Ward sacrifice the runner to third figuring one more run might be good enough. Dolphin came around to score on a failed pick-off attempt, giving Grand the 2-1 lead.
After Dolphin scored the go-ahead run, lead-off hitter Adam Jenkinson followed with a single to right and Kiel Schraft reached base on a hit batter. That set the stage for Taylor, whose towering three-run homer to right center pushed the Red Devils ahead 5-1.
“I’ve been on a little bit of a slump lately. It was a curveball down and over the middle, the pitches that are lower those are my favorite. I just swung hard and got lucky I guess,” said Taylor.
It was a short-lived cushion. Beaver’s Jaxon Osborn reached base on an error and came around to score two batters later on a single by Michael Roberts. Hoyt then singled home Roberts, cutting the deficit to 5-3.
Nelson, however, pitched himself out of the jam with two strikeouts as Beaver stranded runners at the corners. In the seventh, Grand turned a double play to punch its ticket to the title game.