OREM — When Salem Hills’ Colton Hill flied out to deep center in the first inning on Thursday evening, he knew he’d narrowly missed driving one out of Brent Brown Ballpark.
The senior knew what he needed to do next time up.
“I just thought if I get that fastball again, I need to be quicker on it, turn on it,” said Hill.
That’s exactly what he did when he came to bat in the second inning — and this time the bases were loaded. The lefty crushed a fastball over the right-field fence, a grand slam that set the tone for a convincing 7-2 victory over region rival Maple Mountain in the 4A state tournament.
With the victory, Salem Hills advances to Friday’s 4A state championship game at 1:30 p.m. It’s only fitting Salem Hills will need to beat Maple Mountain again after the Golden Eagles regrouped from Thursday’s winners bracket loss to knock off Timpanogos in an elimination game later in the evening.
“This is the stuff you work for when you’re 11, 12 years old. To be one win away is a surreal feeling,” said Hill.
Hill helped make it all possible with his second-inning blast.
Salem Hills and Maple Mountain — who split the season series — each had chances to blow the game open in the first inning with bases-loaded opportunities, but both settled for just one run.
In the second, Salem’s Clay Wessell and Conner Rollins led off with back-to-back singles, with Zac Lundell following with a walk.
Maple Mountain starter MaKay Nelson eased some of the tension by striking out Taylor Snyder, but that merely set the stage for a different hero.
“These guys trust each other. The lineup is set up pretty well where each guy protects each guy. Taylor goes down the at-bat before, and Colton just comes up and hits the grand slam. But that’s been that way all year, somebody always picks up the other guy. It’s just been fun to watch them,” said Salem Hills coach Scott Haney.
Maple Mountain nearly answered back in the bottom of the second, but KJ Hall’s deep shot over the left-field fence curled just foul with two runners on. Golden Eagles coach Gary Miner was livid, insisting it was fair.
Some of his frustration probably boiled over from the first inning as Maple Mountain scored just once despite four hits after hitting into an inning-ending double play.
After that first-inning jam, Salem Hills pitcher Garrett McEwen settled down and only allowed three hits over the next five innings. It was pretty easy for him to pitch relaxed after Hill’s grand slam.
“I jumped high enough. I think I hit my head on the dugout. It was crazy. I was throwing my stuff. It was awesome. I probably need a new batting helmet now,” said McEwen.
Maple Mountain briefly cut the lead to 5-2 with an Arik Mack RBI single in the fifth, but Snyder quickly responded in the sixth for Salem Hills with a two-run double, increasing the lead to 7-2.
McEwen walked the first two batters in the seventh inning, but Zac Lundell came on in relief and retired three straight to preserve the win.
“These guys have had a goal from day one to win five in a row, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow,” said Haney.
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