KEARNS When Judge Memorial's Keenyn Walker learned after practice Wednesday night that he was going to be the team's starting pitcher Thursday in the winner's bracket semifinals of the 3A state baseball tournament, he took it in stride.
"I was excited," Walker said. "I woke up and felt good about today. I was amped about the game and that we got to play a good team and face a good pitcher."
The pitcher Walker was facing was Canyon View's Mike Diedrich, undoubtedly one of the top five pitchers in the state. The fact that Diedrich was starting was a no-brainer, but Walker's decision was a little more curious. He had started only three previous games on the year, and Judge's potent one-two combo of Joe Pond and AJ Carman had each won nine games in taking the Bulldogs to a 23-1 record.
"It was a dilemma, but it was a dilemma that almost any coach would love to have," said Judge coach Jeff Myaer. "Keenyn is probably a No. 1 on a lot of staffs in the state. Joe, obviously is a very good pitcher, and so is AJ, but Keenyn is right there. He even may be No. 1 on our staff."
There will be no second guessing Myaer's decision after the masterful performance Walker turned in. All the right-handed junior did was slow Canyon View to just two singles, one walk, three total base runners, two runs and struck out 12 in the process in leading Judge to a 3-2 win to advance to today's winner's bracket finals.
"Keenyn was nails. Unbelievable," said Myaer. "I didn't expect any less, though. He is just an unbelievable athlete and a great competitor."
While Walker blew through the Falcons' lineup, Diedrich did the same to the Bulldogs. Judge came in averaging over 11 runs per game, but the Canyon View junior made the Bulldogs look foolish on plenty of his hard-breaking curve balls. He threw 129 pitches going all seven innings, and he threw an astounding 77 off-speed pitches, almost all of which were curves. He struck out 15 batters, surrendered seven hits and three runs.
"Diedrich was incredible," Myaer said. "I would never think we could strike out 15 times and still win."
Judge came out on top because it found a way to manufacture runs. Walker led off the game with an infield single. He advanced on Matt Thorne's seeing-eye single, and scored on Carman's fielder's choice. The Bulldogs plated two more runs in the fifth on singles from Thorne, Carman and Pond and a Canyon View error.
"It feels great," said Walker. "It is always good to just go out there and look at the other pitcher and say, 'I am going to beat you one way or another.' It wasn't just me, though. It was my whole team. Everyone helped get something done for us one through nine."The Bulldogs face Juan Diego today at Gates Field on the Kearns High campus at 4:30 for the right to play in the 3A title game. The Soaring Eagle advanced by defeating Cedar 10-5 behind a good pitching performance form Caleb Olson.