OREM — In close ball games, big defensive plays usually make the difference.

In Alta's thrilling 5-4 win Tuesday over Spanish Fork in the 5A baseball playoffs at Utah Valley State College, the Hawks escaped with the victory thanks to two huge rally-killing defensive plays.

The first came in the fourth inning when Spanish Fork, trailing 3-0, was mounting its first serious scoring threat. Two walks and a double by Tyler Hanks loaded the bases for the Dons with one out. However, the Hawks escaped without damage when first baseman David Skanchy stabbed a line drive off the bat of Gentry Mitchell and doubled up the runner who had wandered too far off the base.

The real drama came three innings later. Spanish Fork scored twice in the bottom of seventh on two singles, an error and a balk to cut Alta's lead to 5-4. The Dons were poised to force extra innings or win the game when they still had runners on first and third and no outs.

Kurt Daley, Spanish Fork's No. 2 hitter, lifted a weak fly to short right field. Alta's Sam Teahan charged in and made the catch. Spanish Fork's Nate Binks tagged at third and tried to score. Teahan's strong throw was high, but Hawks' catcher Jefferson Court was still able to leap, pull down the throw and recover in time to tag Binks out at the plate for a double play.

Still, the Dons had the potential tying run on second and Hanks at the plate, Spanish Fork's top hitter. But Hawks' reliever Justin Campbell got Hanks to foul out to Skanchy to end the game.

For the first five innings Alta starter Tyson Knowles pitched a masterful game. With a variety of off-speed pitches, he retired the first nine Spanish Fork hitters he faced. The Dons' first hit was Hanks' double into the left-field corner in the fourth. The lefty came out after six, giving up only two runs on three hits with five walks and three strikeouts.

Alta jumped on top with two runs in the third on a sacrifice fly by Kavin Keyes and a two-out RBI single up the middle by Court. Parker Webster's two-out RBI single to left an inning later put the Hawks up 3-0. After the Hawks escaped Spanish Fork's threat in the bottom half of the fourth, they came back with two more runs in the fifth on Colton Call's two-run double off the left-field fence.

Spanish Fork clawed back with RBI singles in the sixth by Brock Duke and Gentry Mitchell. Taggart Lunceford also had an RBI single for Spanish Fork in the seventh.

Alta advances to play today against the loser of the Taylorsville/Riverton game. Spanish Fork was eliminated with the loss.

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