OREM — Prep sports are at their best when they involve more than just the players on the field.
That’s what made Grantsville’s run to this year’s 3A state baseball championship so special.
Soon after center fielder Dallin Williams squeezed the final out in Grantsville’s 8-7 3A title win over Desert Hills Saturday, the Cowboys' players went out of their way to acknowledge all who helped them every step of the way. Those involved included a large portion of the community, a very vocal group of little Cowboys and a couple of particularly notable individuals.
It wasn’t hard to find any of the Cowboys' supporters. They were all there — stuffed into Brent Brown Ballpark anxiously and enthusiastically helping their players every step of the way.
“Just look at them,” said Grantsville coach Loren Anderson. “Half of the community is here. They’re going nuts and we’re not supposed to be here, but we found a way to get here. ... We just hang around and hang around and it’s a credit to the kids' character.”
“It means a lot to this community,” added star junior Wyatt Barrus. “We have generations on generations of players here and it means a lot to a small town like this. We play for those little kids. We’ve been playing for an ex-teammate who passed away and also for Danny (Nelson), who had surgery and isn’t able to play.”
The ex-teammate was Stansbury’s Matt McConnell, who passed away just prior to the season. Although never a member of Grantsville’s team, Barrus and his teammates were close to McConnell, having grown up playing baseball together. They honored him by putting his number on their wristbands.
As for the little Cowboys, a group of grade-school fans highly involved in team activities, they remained loud throughout, but perhaps were loudest after one swing of the bat in the fourth inning that changed the entire course of the game.
With the game tied 1-1 in the top of the fourth inning, No. 9 hitter Clay Matthews strode to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs. Coaches initially asked the diminutive left fielder to execute a suicide squeeze — a play that worked for the Cowboys throughout their championship run.
Instead, Matthews asked for just one swing of the bat. His request was granted and Matthews’ sent a high fly ball to left-center field for a grand slam, giving his team a 5-1 lead and a sudden boost of momentum.
“He got one swing. And that was one hell of a swing,” Anderson said.
The home run was Matthews’ first of the entire season, a hit he won’t forget anytime soon.
“I’m known as the sacrifice guy, but I just wanted one swing, you know?” Matthews said. “I was able to put some air under it and connected real good. That was my first home run of the year and what a time to hit it. I feel like I’m on top of the world right now.”
A two-run double from Barrus and an RBI single from Wyatt Smith gave the Cowboys a commanding 8-1 lead entering the bottom of the fourth.
Undaunted, Desert Hills responded immediately with a five-run fourth inning, highlighted by a bases-clearing double from Dylan File to cut Grantsville's lead to 8-6.
After a scoreless fifth the Thunder came to within one run courtesy of a towering home run from Braiden Irvin just inside the left-field foul pole. Two singles later and Grantsville appeared in real trouble until a double play sent the game into the seventh inning.
After Grantsville goose-egged in the top-half of the seventh, Barrus took the mound to finish what he started in hopes of securing the state championship. Despite giving up seven runs through six innings, Anderson wasn’t going to give way to anyone else to close things out.
“He was the one that got us here and we were going to let him finish,” Anderson said. “You live and die with him.”
True to his stellar tournament form, Barrus responded with a scoreless seventh for the complete-game victory, and more importantly, Grantsville's first state championship in 14 years.
Despite individual heroics from both Matthews and Barrus, Anderson was quick to note it took everyone.
“They are a team,” Anderson said. “There’s no individuals and they don’t care about themselves more than they care about the team. They always accept their role and what we ask them to do. They don’t complain where they hit. They don’t complain when they’re asked to bunt. They don’t complain about anything.”
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