After trying and trying and trying and trying again, the Juab Wasps finally nabbed the major sports championship that had eluded them the past 14 months.
But winning the 2A baseball title - by virtue of a thrilling come-from-behind last-inning 8-7 victory over Manti Thursday - didn't come without moments of suspense for the school that has come oh-so-close to winning so many times recently.Coming into Thursday's 2A baseball grand finale, Juab had not suffered a loss during the double-elimination state tournament. But that changed in the first game at Utah Valley State College Thursday afternoon, when Manti nipped the Wasps 3-2 in a well-played pitchers' duel. The Templars' win forced a decisive winner-takes-all-the-2A-glory game later in the rainy day.
By now, the boys from Nephi know the championship games like they know the back of Mount Nebo. The Wasps nearly reached the top of the 2A summit four times in the last two school years, but they came up one win short each time. Before this baseball season, they had lost consecutive championship games in basketball (twice), football and baseball.
So, it was with great trepidation that the Wasps entered the final two innings of the championship game Thursday. Not only had they blown their mulligan with the first-game loss, but they also found themselves trailing Manti by four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning.
What happened next left the Wasps smiling about mythological baseball deity and left everybody else admiring their inability to quit.
"I guess there is a baseball god," senior Josh Park said, smiling. "We've deserved this for a long time. We're sitting in the clouds."
It was Park's two-run single that highlighted Juab's three-run sixth inning. Then, the Wasps' defense and Park, who had already pitched 13 innings on the day, retired three straight Templars to stay within one heading into the bottom of the seventh.
Mike Howarth started the Wasps' final at-bat with a single. Next up was pinch-hitter Chad Sperry, who took one for the team by ducking his head as an off-speed pitch pegged him in the helmet. Howarth and Brett Lovell (runner for Sperry) then set the table for Jeremy Lynn by stealing second and third on consecutive pitches.
Lynn, a junior who had gone hitless with three strikeouts in six at-bats in the two games, provided the heroics the Wasps had long been waiting for as he belted a double into right field to score both runners.
Game, season and drought over.
"I think the team started to droop, but we never gave up," said Lynn. "They (the seniors) went through five championships, so they deserve at least one."
Park, a three-sport all-stater who suffered through all of the second-to-one seasons, said the wait was well worth it.
"It means a lot more, because we got knocked down and got right back up again, and then we got knocked down and got right back up again."
And again and again.
"These kids deserve it," said Juab coach Raymond Nielsen. "It's nice to finally get the goal."
Nielsen and Park gave each other an emotional hug after the victory that left Park's pitching arm numb.
"He not only carried us for the last 14 innings," said a teary-eyed Nielsen, "but he's carried us for the last three years."
Along with striking out 15 batters in the two games, Park batted 3-for-4 with three RBI and one run in the championship game. Brad Peterson and Brett Mortensen added two hits apiece and accounted for four runs.
Manti's Kurt Keisel also had a gutsy outing on the mound. He pitched all 13 innings for the Templars, striking out 21 Juab batters. He threw a two-hitter in the afternoon win.