OREM — Great teams always seem to find ways to win, even when they’re not playing their best.
That critical quality is, after all, one of the key things that makes them great — and one of the vital things that can help make them champions.
Bingham High has a great baseball program. Always has and, most likely, always will.
And on Friday, the Miners showed their championship mettle by taking full advantage of an error-plagued Layton High team to grab a 6-5 victory for the 5A state title at Utah Valley University’s Brent Brown Ballpark. It was the 21st state championship in the proud, impressive history of Bingham High’s baseball program.
“Absolutely incredible,” Bingham senior catcher Jacob Druce, who drove in the tying run with a sixth-inning single, said of his postgame elation. “I’m at the bottom of that (celebratory) dog pile and I didn’t feel anything. Actually, I might’ve broken my leg, but I’m all right for right now.
“A big part of our program is tradition and how we carry ourselves and how we’ve always managed to pull through when the time was needed, so just to add another state championship on to the 20 that we already have is unbelievable.
“It was definitely one that was definitely fun to play in,” Druce said. “Those games when you have the lead and you keep it are good, but it’s not a championship game unless the lead goes back and forth a little bit.”
Trailing 5-3 entering the sixth inning, the senior-laden Bingham lineup, which wound up 22-7 overall, put together a three-run rally that was, well, downright weird.
With one out, senior outfielder TJ Bowcutt reached base on an error — one of six costly miscues the Lancers committed during the game, allowing the Miners to score six unearned runs — and he advanced to third on a wild pitch and a fly out before scoring on a passed ball.
That made it 5-4, but the weirdness was just beginning.
Senior leadoff batter Brennon Lund drew a two-out walk and senior outfielder Braxton McKee singled up the middle to put the tying and go-ahead runs on base. Druce then drilled a clutch RBI single to left field, bringing home Lund with the run that tied it at 5-5.
“It was a situation I put myself in over and over again,” Druce said. “I knew that, mentally, our coaches are big on mental imagery, so over and over again I put myself in that situation. And when I got up there, I knew I had what it took to get us at least one run to tie that thing up.”
Then when the speed-up runner for Druce attempted to steal second base, Layton’s catcher tried to throw him out — but the errant throw bounced between the Lancers’ middle infielders and trickled into center field as McKee raced home with what proved to be the winning run.
Chase Tavonatti came on in the seventh to nail down the last three outs on the mound for the Miners, stranding a potential tying run at second base.
“I didn’t even see it,” McKee said of the decisive sixth-inning sequence in which he scored the go-ahead run. “(The third base coach) was just yelling ‘Go, go, go! It’s through the infield!’ and it was just amazing.
“I feel like these guys are my best friends. We had a lot to play for this year and it’s everything you’d ever dreamed of. I mean, that’s what you’ve got to do in big games. You’ve got to take advantage of errors. (Layton’s) a great team; they played a heck of a game all gamelong, but, you know, someone’s gotta win.
“It’s just a tradition of excellence; it’s unbelievable,” McKee said of the Miners’ championship pedigree. “I mean, it’s incredible to compare ourselves with some of the early Bingham state titles, and I’m just proud to be a part of it.”
Bingham benefited from Layton’s crucial mistakes in the field to build a 3-0 lead after four innings.
A couple of errors and Austin Florez’s sacrifice fly put the Miners ahead 1-0 in the third, and Lance Harrison singled and scored on a three-base error in the fourth. Bowcutt, who wound up going all the way to third base when the Lancers badly botched his bunt attempt, then scored on a perfectly executed squeeze bunt by Ryan Llewelyn to make it 3-0.
Then Layton’s bats came to life. After a pair of two-out walks, junior outfielder Quentin Marcelin tied the game at 3-3 with one swing of the bat — a three-run homer over the left-field fence.
The Lancers grabbed a 5-3 lead in the sixth when Logan Greenhalgh singled; Rusty Wilbert and Brayden Collingwood drew back-to-back walks to load the bases; and Caleb Harrop lined a two-run double down the left-field line.
At that point, Layton was just six outs away from pushing the 5A finale to a second-game, winner-take-all showdown, but the Miners had other ideas in winning their 11th-straight game and for the 14th time in their final 15 games.
“Tough kids, huh?” Bingham coach Joey Sato said of his ballclub. “They didn’t let the adversity bother them, answered when the other team scored ... and we had the right guys come to the plate when we needed to at that point.
“I really didn’t tell them anything because they knew the task at hand,” he said of the Miners’ sixth-inning rally. “We just wanted to have quality at-bats and just pick away one at a time. We work at that and sometimes things work out for us, which they did today.
“Our kids and our staff, as long as we stay together as we have been and we’re fortunate enough, good things like this happen. I can’t give all those guys enough credit; they know their jobs and they do them well, and I’m just excited for our group of seniors.”
Four of the Miners’ state titles have come under Sato’s guidance, and he got emotional when talking about the program’s tradition-rich history.
“Honored to be a part of that,” Sato said, fighting back tears. “(It) started a long time ago, way before I got there. We just want to keep the traditions alive at our school. Our kids hang in there and they’re tough and we try to execute and sometimes you do it well, and today happened to be one of those days when it happened.
“That’s big for us,” he said of his team’s error-free performance. “That’s a key to our success because we’re not a power-hitting team, so we’ve got to make plays and keep people from having big innings. And today we were able to do that, so we’re really fortunate.
“Layton, let me tell you, what a great group of guys — tough. If our kids played with the heart that they did, I’d be happy, too,” Sato said. “That’s a quality ballclub over there and they deserved to be here, and I can’t say enough good about their coaching staff — and ours, too. Let’s start with the players, and the guys that I have coach here are just phenomenal. I let them run the game and I just try to stay out of their way.”
Layton coach Robert Ferneau, who played his own prep baseball for the Lancers and was trying to bring the Davis County school its first baseball state championship in school history, bemoaned his ballclub’s uncharacteristic and costly defensive lapses. But he was rightfully proud of the way his team exceeded everyone’s expectations this season.
“We picked the wrong time to play bad defense today against a great team like that, and we even have a chance to win at the end there,” he said. “This is a pretty special group of kids we’ve got here. ... (Bingham) put some pressure on us and we just didn’t handle it very well.
“I know that when we showed up, we were gonna do what we do and that’s we’re gonna play hard. We’re a blue-collar team and we’re gonna battle to the last out.
“It would’ve been something that nobody’s every done there, and it would’ve been great,” Ferneau said of the near-miss by Region 1 co-champion Layton (20-10) in its first title-game appearance. “For what these kids accomplished this year, being picked fifth in our league — remember, we were 1-19 three years ago with this group — and these kids have persevered and they just have done nothing but thought about Layton High School themselves and the proper way to play the game of baseball.
“ ... I’ll tell ya, it’s been a great ride with these kids for the last 3-4 years and I wouldn’t change it for the world. And I love these kids. We return five starters coming back and, hopefully, if we get some breaks, hopefully we’ll be here again.”
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company