SANDY — The first round of the 5A tournament was looking like a vacation for American Fork star pitcher Riley Ottesen. Only things missing were a hammock and an Italian ice soda.
Then the sixth inning happened.
With a 5-1 lead in the top of the sixth against Alta, Ottesen reached successfully on a fielder's choice single, but was promptly caught resting at first for the second out of the inning. However, as he attempted to return to the bag he jammed his finger into the base.
“When I dove back I jammed my ring finger on my throwing hand,” Ottesen explained. “Going back out it hurt to put pressure on the inside of my ring knuckle, so it was kind of hard to locate things.”
The Hawks attacked like a shark with blood in the water, and if not for two costly base-running errors, potentially could have shocked the defending champs. But following an insurance run in the seventh, the Cavemen survived, 6-4, at Alta High on Tuesday.
“I think the experience for him, especially being in these kind of situations, is huge,” American Fork coach Jarod Ingersoll said. “There’s not a game that we’re going to face that he hasn’t been in. He’s a big-time pitcher and doesn’t let the moment get to him. Riley is Riley. He’s our horse and we’re gonna go as far as we can with him. He’s just a great competitor.”
American Fork (16-7) will meet Syracuse on Wednesday, while Alta (17-9) will look to keep its season alive in the one-loss bracket against Kearns.
Ottesen, despite being sore, believes his finger won’t continue to be an issue.
“When I try and squeeze it, it hurts. But it’s fine. I’ll be OK,” he said after finishing with nine strikeouts.
The Hawks struggled to figure out Ottesen, who often is regarded as the top player in the state. Through five innings Alta batters fought tirelessly through counts but ultimately produced a mere four hits — two courtesy of Cole Myers.
“They were being aggressive with the fastball and I was trying to get ahead with the curveball (on) the first pitch of the count,” Ottesen said. “The umpire kind of squeezed me a little bit and I was thinking that since I’m down and it was a hitter's count, I’m going to come back with another off-speed so they’re not sitting fastball.”
Alta finally broke through in that sixth inning. After Ottesen beaned the leadoff hitter, Kade Matthews corked an RBI triple to center to dip into the deficit, 5-2.
A massive inning was percolating, but instead mental breakdowns on the bases ensued. With runners on second and third and one out, Alta elected to pinch hit. The decision appeared to have paid off with a deep blast. However, Alta’s runner at third hesitated, which in turn pickled out the runner at second.
“Alta does everything so good,” Ingersoll said. “Just those little mistakes it’s important for us to compound and make sure we get outs in those situations. Those are huge for us to capitalize on (and) build on that.”
Then, after a two-run RBI single by Chipper Lucero, Alta once again shot itself in the foot. Inserting a pinch runner, the Hawks tried to move into scoring position. Aware of the scheme, Ottesen stepped off and buried the runner at first.
“The guy at first was leaving early. We work on that a lot of practice and he stepped off just like we run it in the drills,” Ingersoll said. “He didn’t really commit because he was worried about the guy at third. He kind of ran that guy back and threw him out at first.”
“They’re obviously a very disciplined team. That’s why they’re here in the playoffs,” added Ottesen. “They’ve got a good coaching staff, but yeah I was pretty surprised to see what was going on.”
Austin Pitcher fluffed American Fork’s cushion to 6-4 on an RBI standup double before Craig Brailsford relieved Ottesen in the seventh and eventually mowed down three straight batters.
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