OREM — Shortly after Snow Canyon center fielder Brendan Truman squeezed a fly ball for the final out of his team's 7-1 championship game triumph over Desert Hills in the 3A baseball tournament Saturday, typical celebratory bedlam ensued.
Players tackled each other in complete jubilation, and coaches were doused with Gatorade as the Warriors celebrated their second-straight 3A title. However, as the team gathered to form the usual impromptu mosh pit, no particular player was raised up as the hero.
The players instead hoisted up a vacant jersey.
“We did it for KJ,” said senior infielder Chandler Day. “He was an amazing player, a great person, a great friend to all of us. And this season — this championship — was completely dedicated to him.”
KJ is Kreg “KJ” Harrison, a player who died in a freak drowning accident shortly after Snow Canyon’s championship win last season. The incident rocked the team, but has turned into a unique source of inspiration and encouragement.
“We’d say ‘KJ on 2’ before taking the field every time throughout the year,” Day said. “This season was for him and this championship was for him.”
Doing it for KJ couldn’t have been more difficult given what the Warriors were up against Saturday. A devastating eight-inning loss the night before to neighbor Desert Hills left the team with a depleted pitching rotation, a lot of frustration and the gargantuan task of winning three games in one day to secure the championship in the double-elimination tournament.
Fortunately for the players, they had a reference point — 2007, a year that saw coach Reed Secrist turn the exact same scenario into a state championship.
“We were down after last night’s game — no question,” said senior Jake Lindsey. “Coaches just reminded us that it could be done — that they overcame the exact same situation in 2007 — and that gave us hope. We came into today with the attitude that we had nothing to lose.”
Snow Canyon got contributions across the board to overcome the odds.
“I told everyone entering today that we needed them at their best or we couldn’t do it,” Secrist said. “Pitching was especially important because we knew we probably wouldn’t have our two main guys — Riley (Gates) and Brogan (Secrist). I told everyone who had a uniform on that they better be ready to pitch because we might need to use everyone available to us at any time.”
First up was a game against hot-hitting Spanish Fork, which shelled Dixie for a 9-4 victory the night before. A five-run explosion in the second inning and a complete-game performance from Day on the mound keyed a hard-fought 5-2 victory.
“Chandler Day pitching a complete game was enormous not only for that game, but for the entire day,” Secrist said. “We got off to a great start and I don’t know if we could have survived like we did if Chandler doesn’t give us a complete game from the mound.”
Day finished with five strikeouts and added an RBI single in the win.
Next up was season-long nemesis Desert Hills — winners of three straight against Snow Canyon and undefeated in the 3A tournament.
Despite producing relatively few runs against the Thunder the previous three games, the Warrior bats came alive in the first game of the eventual two-game series. Runs in every inning including a breakout nine-run fourth inning that led the game to be called after five innings, with Snow Canyon taking the win 16-6.
Lindsey highlighted the offensive explosion with a team-high five RBIs, which included a two-run home run in the top of the second.
“We just got rolling big-time in that game,” Lindsey said. “Momentum was going great and I was just able to add to a complete team effort from everyone. We got momentum early and it just carried us through.”
Indeed that momentum spilled over to provide four runs in the first three innings of the winner-take-all final game, giving Snow Canyon a commanding 4-0 lead.
“Nothing was going to stop us today,” Day said. “We fought too hard to get to that final game and just stop and quit. We play for everyone on this team and that’s what happened today and that’s why we’re state champions again.”
Day again contributed heavily from the plate in the rubber match, going 2-4 with an RBI. Junior Tyler Wardell led the team with three RBIs, but it was defense that led the way in securing the final 7-1 win.
"Clint Gates was absolutely enormous for us today,” Secrist said. “He ended that second game for us from the mound and we decided to just keep going with him and see how far he’d get in the final game. We had no idea he could go the complete game — it’s just another example of a guy who stepped up and played at his best when his team needed him most.”
Following his 8 1/3 innings pitched on the day Gates was ready for even more.
“I could go all day,” Gates said. “I feel absolutely amazing and there’s nothing that could stop us out there.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of this team and what they accomplished out there today and for the entire season,” Secrist added. “It’s an honor for me to have been able to coach such great kids with so much heart. It took everyone to win this thing today and we got everyone’s best effort and we needed KJ. We felt him throughout this season and we certainly felt him out there with us today.”
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @BrandonCGurney
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company