PLEASANT GROVE — It’s not where you hit in the lineup. It’s simply how you hit.
Pleasant Grove coach Darrin Henry preaches that message to his players, and it was apparently well-received by eight-hole hitter Ben Eldredge. The junior second baseman provided a game-winning home run in the bottom of the sixth inning to lift his team to a region championship-clinching 4-2 win over American Fork Monday.
It’s a home run that almost didn’t happen.
With a runner on first and no outs in a 2-2 ballgame, Henry initially gave Eldredge instructions to bunt. But when the Cavemen made a pitching change, Henry had a feeling.
“I thought that if this (American Fork reliever) comes in and throws strikes, and we have a chance to barrel one up, we’re going to take that chance,” Henry said. “Sometimes you have to gamble a little bit.”
Henry called the bunt off just before the first pitch and Eldredge responded with screaming a liner just over the left-field fence.
An unexpected result for most batters eighth in the lineup perhaps, but not so with Eldredge.
“Ben is third in 5A in RBIs and he’s in our eight-hole,” Henry said. “Our whole lineup has between 25 and 30 RBIs (each) ... so it doesn’t matter in our lineup where you hit. It’s how you hit and that’s what we’ve talked about all year.”
Easton Walker polished off Eldredge’s heroics by pitching a scoreless top of the seventh in what was a complete-game effort for the senior hurler.
“You could tell he came out with a little extra adrenaline,” Henry said. “Once he settled in we knew that he’s our ace ... and our odds are definitely better when he’s there on the mound.”
Walker’s initial adrenaline was perhaps due to what was on the line Monday. With a win Pleasant Grove, could secure the Region 4 title — a goal the players have been eying since the season started.
“We haven’t won region in a long, long time,” Henry said. “So the second we lost in the tournament we sat on the bus ... and talked about how our goal is to get two home games and we have to win the region championship to do that.”
As sweet as a region championship is, clinching it against American Fork made it that much more satisfying. The two schools have developed an intense rivalry through the years that grew stronger this season following an intense early-season series that involved the two sides clearing the dugout over some flare-ups on at least one occasion.
“Everyone knows the rivalry. We’re not shying away from it and (American Fork isn’t) shying away from it,” Henry said. “It’s fun to come. You see the biggest crowd ... and it’s a great way to prepare for the state tournament.”
With the win, Pleasant Grove improves to 17-6 overall and 14-2 in Region 4 play. American Fork falls to 16-7 overall and 11-5 in region play. The two teams will face each other two more times this week to finish off their respective regular seasons.