OREM It was a day of firsts for the Timpanogos Timberwolves.
Designated hitter Grant Jimenez hit his first home run of the season, a tone-setting three-run bomb in the first inning of the Timpanogos-Bingham 5A state championship game on Saturday afternoon. Right fielder Kellen McWhorter followed with his first home run of the season in the second inning. Tanner Wolfe made his first relief appearance of the postseason and held his ground against one of the state's most potent offenses.
All of the firsts played important roles in what was the most satisfying first for the Timberwolves: They defeated the Miners 8-4 to claim their first state baseball championship since moving up to 5A prior to the 2005-06 school year. It was the fourth overall state baseball title for Timpanogos, which has won 23 of its last 25 state tournament games.
"This win is incredible," Jimenez said. "We've worked so hard for so long. Finally. It's the best feeling to come through in the end."
The result of Saturday's title game hardly seemed in doubt after Jimenez's first inning at-bat. Down 0-2 in the count against Bingham starter Nate Rasmussen, he was looking to just battle and get on base. Rasmussen hung a curve ball to Jimenez, and he blasted it over the left-field fence to put the Timberwolves up 3-0.
"It felt really good, but the win is a lot sweeter," Jimenez said.
It was also sweet for the Timberwolves to see their clean-up hitter come through in a key spot. Jimenez has battled several nagging injuries in the last year and had to endure a shoulder surgery. The various ailments may have slowed him at times, but not when it counted the most.
"Grant, coming into the year, we thought was definitely going to be one of our better players," said Timpanogos coach Kim Nelson. "I'm proud of the fact he made a big contribution here in this game."
Jimenez's home run put all of the game's pressure on Bingham. The Miners responded and rallied at various times in the game. They got within one run of Timpanogos in the fourth and chased Timberwolves starter Rhett Nelson in the fifth. Bingham, however, let too many chances slip away and stranded 11 runners on base.
The Timberwolves had no such problems. They took advantage of their opportunities and got contributions from everyone in their lineup.
McWhorter made a sliding catch in the top of the second inning before he homered in the bottom of the second. Center fielder Taylor Lyons showed off his incredible range, robbing the Miners of what would have been sure hits against an average player in the outfield. He had three putouts, and none were routine. Jordan Cooper hit a two-run single in the fifth to put Timpanogos in command with a 7-3 lead.
"It was a true team effort," said Kim Nelson. "We never had to rely on one guy. Everybody made a contribution in different games, and really in all the games. It was a lot of guys helping."
Rhett Nelson threw well enough to pick up his third win in the state tournament. Wolfe, who relieved him with two runners on base and no outs in the fifth, allowed no earned runs and struck out four in three innings. He faced some trouble in the seventh when the Miners loaded the bases without getting a hit. With the tying run at the plate, Wolfe struck out Bingham left fielder Wade Anderson to end the game."It's a great feeling," Wolfe said. "There was a lot of pressure, but we just stayed tough. We stayed tough throughout the game."
5A All-Tournament Team
MVP: Rhett Nelson, Timpanogos
Brett Lopez, Timpanogos
Mitch Foster, Timpanogos
Grant Jimenez, Timpanogos
Brock Whitney, Bingham
Nate Rasmussen, Bingham
Zane Pulver, Taylorsville
Gavin Green, Layton
Justin Campbell, Alta