KEARNS — Kanab’s Michael Stewart hadn’t amounted to much at the plate all day.
In his first trip to the dish Thursday in the 2A quarterfinals at Kearns High he lined out. Then in his second trip he struck out. In his third trip he reached safely on an error but was promptly picked off at first. The Cowboys desperately needed their senior leader to deliver.
Oh, did he ever.
In the eighth inning, Stewart brushed aside his previous struggles and stepped to the plate with runners on the corners and one out. The right fielder calmly squared his bat and placed a perfect suicide bunt down the first baseline to propel Kanab past Grand, 5-4, and into the winners bracket semifinals.
“(Kanab) Coach (Mason) Fox was going to call a number — tell us what to do — and I couldn’t hear him over the crowd, so I called timeout and walked over to him,” Stewart explained. “He said, ‘You squeeze bunt right here?’ And I said, ‘Heck yeah.’
"I went up there and I knew it was going to be something nasty. It was a suicide squeeze so I had to get it down. I just kept my eye on it and pushed it right down the first baseline. “
Fox realized that with Merrill Terry — a speedster that hovered around the bases with an inside-the-park homer in the first inning — hibernating on third, he had the luxury of calling the squeeze with one out.
“We had to kind of do something. I knew there was one out but I also knew their pitcher had been throwing his off-speed pitches for strikes time and time again and we couldn’t square one of them up,” Fox said. “So, I figured, 'What do we have to lose?' If we get out we still have two outs and still have a chance to draw the run in. At that point it was like, 'We got to do it.'”
The Cowboys (10-9) advanced to meet Emery, which topped Millard, in the semifinals Friday at 4:30 p.m.
“That’s why seniors are so valuable” Fox said of Stewart. “They’re more comfortable with what’s going on in the game. They’re not nearly overcome by the game itself and I knew Mike could do it. It was the right guy with the right guy on third. That’s just the way it goes.”
Kanab, which battled back from deficits of 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3, once again loaded up on its sophomore right-hander Chase Adams (5-1). Although sporadic at times, Adams wrung up nine batters in a complete-game effort.
“He didn’t really have his breaking ball today, but he got away with throwing some fastballs in locations and then a change-up here and there,” Fox said. “It was a battle all day for him. He did a great job.”
The sophomore carried the Cowboys, but in the end it came down to the senior leader.
“That was awesome,” Adams said. “It scared me though. It’s one of those plays if you don’t get it down it’s an out, but if you do get it down it’s the game winner. But I had full confidence in Michael that he’d get it done — senior leader.”