KEARNS This year's Kearns American Legion team shares little in common with last year's combined powerhouse Kearns/Taylorsville club that cruised to the state championship.
But after the first two rounds of the state tournament, Kearns is exactly where last year's team was in the winners' bracket and with its sights set on winning a championship.
Kearns, the eighth seed from the Valley League, stayed unbeaten in the state tournament by routing Grantsville 13-1 on Monday afternoon. The win puts the Cougars in a showdown in the winners' bracket semifinals against Cyprus.
Kearns was an afterthought when the tournament began after it struggled with consistency, and with simply having players show up for games during the regular season. After beating Northern League co-champion Blacksmith Fork in the first round and smashing Grantsville on Monday, the Cougars have sent the message that they can compete with anyone in the state.
"When we first got into the tournament, we knew we had the talent to go as far as we can," said Kearns rightfielder Major Smith. "So far we're doing what we can. We know how to play. We've played together since Little League all-stars so we know what we can accomplish. We can go all the way if we come out and play."
The Cougars certainly came to play on Monday, putting up a whopping 11 runs in the first inning against Grantsville. Major Smith had two hits in the first inning, and Edgar Pimintel had an RBI double during the marathon inning. Kearns also got some breaks, as Grantsville walked four batters and committed four errors during the inning.
"We're streaky sometimes," said Kearns coach Rob Smith. "We're a really good hitting team. I just worry about our pitching. But we're in good shape."
Rob Smith used three pitchers against Grantsville. Jordan Higbee, throwing for the first time in nearly four weeks after sustaining numerous injuries in a four-wheeler accident, started and shut the Cowboys down for three innings. Cody DeJong threw an inning, as did Mark Curley, the team's starting catcher who made his first pitching appearance of the season. Grantsville managed just one hit against the three pitchers.
"It (the fast start) helped me settle in," Higbee said. "I could get up there and just throw. I felt good. I was just a little stiff."
Kearns is mostly comprised of players who competed for Kearns' high school team the last two seasons. Mike Kelly has been a solid addition from Copper Hills. But other than Kelly's contributions this week, Kearns has been led by players with little postseason experience. Kearns did not reach the state tournament the past two seasons in high school ball.
"It feels great, especially after the high school season we had," said Major Smith.
In other winners' bracket games:
CYPRUS 2, MURRAY 1: In a game that lasted just 75 minutes, Cyprus pitcher George Thomas defeated Chase Rezac in a duel. Thomas scattered eight hits while striking out seven. Rezac struck out 10 while allowing just four hits. Brock Moltz drove in a run for Cyprus in the third inning and scored the game-winning run.
TAYLORSVILLE 11, TOOELE 1: Taylorsville, a combined team with players from Riverton and Taylorsville, broke open a close game and ended it in five innings. Nic Johnston hit a grand slam in Taylorsville's seven-run fifth inning, and Connor Woodward hit a walk-off two-run home run.
SMITHFIELD 10, CEDAR CITY 8: The Aztecs overcame a four-run deficit, then outlasted Cedar City in eight innings. Tyson Thompson and Danny Nevling drove in runs for Smithfield in the eighth. K.C. Harris homered for Cedar City, which rallied to tie the game with two runs in the seventh.
SPARTANS 19, ROY 8: Josh Sturges had the performance of the day at the state tournament, as he hit for the cycle and had four RBIs. Ryan Matson and Brandon Glen each hit two doubles for the Spartans.
TAYLORSVILLE U17 6, LOGAN 2: Keaton Todd doubled and tripled, and Tim Lesuma had three hits to lead Taylorsville. Mike Rupp threw a complete game.
HELPER 7, BOX ELDER 0: Derrick Anderson threw a two-hit shutout to lead Helper.BLACKSMITH FORK 16, UINTAH 5: Kyler Webb, Derek Pond and Chandler Smith each drove in three runs for Blacksmith Fork.
At Oquirrh Park, Kearns
Smithfield vs. Taylorsville, 7 p.m.
Cyprus vs. Kearns, 8 p.m.
Helper vs. Tooele, 1 p.m.
Murray vs. Blacksmith Fork, 2 p.m.
Cedar City vs. Taylorsville U17, 4 p.m.
Spartans vs. Grantsville, 5 p.m.