OREM Obviously, having a wounded Gentry Croft on the mound is much better than having no Gentry Croft on the mound.
The Timpanogos senior right-hander, who has been battling a rib-muscle injury the past three weeks, was nowhere near his midseason form Friday in the winners' bracket game of the 5A baseball tournament at Utah Valley State College.
But even with a heat pad under his jersey and the need to stretch repeatedly, Croft was still sharp enough to throw a complete-game five-hitter in the Timberwolves' 6-5 win over the Riverton Silverwolves.
"Where (Croft's) been the last three weeks to come in here and fight, scratch, claw and do all he can do to help, that's just great for him," Timpanogos coach Kim Nelson said.
Uncharacteristically, Croft did issue five walks and hit two batters. But he made up for his occasional wildness by striking out eight. Most importantly, he kept the Silverwolves off the scoreboard for the final four innings.
"From the fourth inning on, I started to hurt a little bit, but with the pressure of the game and everything, I had to hang in there because my team was counting on me," Croft said.
The T-Wolves, as they've been doing all tournament, came out of the gate fast with two runs in the bottom of the first, with Bret Lopez and Mitch Foster each singling in a run. A solo home run to deep left-center field in the second by Christian Stewart put Timpanogos up 3-0.
However, the Silverwolves made Timpanogos pay for its mistakes in the third. After the first two runners reached on a walk and hit batter, Croft's throw to third on a sacrifice bunt sailed into left field, allowing Riverton's first run to score. Two batters later, Nic Johnston stroked a single up the middle that scored two more runs, tying the game 3-3.
It appeared Timpanogos was going to escape further damage until Riverton catcher Davis Johnson singled up the middle to score one more. A fifth Riverton run scored when Johnson's single wasn't fielded cleanly in center field.
Riverton's five-run inning had Timpanogos trailing for the first time in the tournament. But the T-Wolves showed they can play catch-up ball as well.
Lopez singled to open the bottom half of the fourth. He eventually scored on a two-out error on a grounder to third, cutting Riverton's lead to 5-4. In the fifth, Lopez walked to again put the T-Wolves' lead-off hitter on base. He was singled home two batters later by Foster. Then, with two outs, Jordan Mehlhoff hit a sharp grounder up the middle that scored the eventual winning run.
"The thing that's been good for us is we're getting production all through the lineup," Nelson said. "It hasn't just been one guy."
Still, the T-Wolves were not out of the woods. In the seventh, Croft issued a one-out walk to Alex Newman. He then fanned the hot-hitting Rex Blaylock. It appeared the deal was done when Johnston hit a high foul pop to the first-base side, but Timpanogos gave Riverton one more breath by dropping the fly ball. But on a full-count, two-out pitch, Johnston flied out to short left-field to end the game.Timpanogos plays for the 5A title today at 1:30 p.m. against Bingham, which edged Riverton 2-1 in eight innings in an elimination game Friday night. The T-Wolves only need to win one of two games today to win the championship.