1 of 37
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Riverton's Cooper Gray reacts to being tagged out at third base by America Fork's Travis Johnson as Riverton and American Fork play in 6A second-round baseball action at Riverton on Wednesday, May 16, 2018.
I started getting in my own head. I just told myself I’ve got to throw it over the plate and force them to swing. —American Fork pitcher Ryan Hardman

RIVERTON — Protecting a two-run lead and brushing into a pitch-count limit, American Fork pitcher Ryan Hardman was down on 3-0 counts to both of the final two batters in the second-round matchup against Riverton on Wednesday.

The senior allowed a full-count sacrifice fly that made it a one-run game, then struck out the final batter to help the Cavemen advance to the quarterfinals of the Class 6A baseball tournament after a 5-4 victory.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t (sweating),” American Fork head coach Jared Ingersoll said of the final two at bats. “It was good enough. Credit Riverton for putting them hard in play, they did a good job of hitting.”

Hardman ended the complete game allowing four runs (two earned) on 11 hits, striking out eight batters and walking two. He threw 113 pitches and, if the final at-bat hadn’t been an out, Hardman would have had to yield the mound against the next batter because of the 110-pitch limit.

“I started getting in my own head,” Hardman said of falling behind 3-0 against the last two batters. “I just told myself I’ve got to throw it over the plate and force them to swing.”

Hardman helped himself to an early three-run lead, hitting a leadoff single and scoring three batters later on third baseman Travis Johnson’s bunt squeeze. First baseman Colton Carpenter bunted for a single and scored when Riverton starting pitcher Kody Nelson walked American Fork outfielder Isaac Garlick with the bases loaded to make it 2-0 in the top of the first inning.

Then in the second, Carpenter drew a walk and scored on an RBI double by designated hitter Dawson Parry.

“We’ve worked on (small ball) every practice,” Hardman said, “so I mean, when we come out and it’s time to execute, it makes it easy.”

Nelson put Riverton on the board in the second inning on a funky RBI single —from the No. 9 hole, left fielder Buddy Young hit a hard grounder up the middle that bounced off Hardman before rolling over to short. Young beat the throw to first, and Carpenter caught Riverton baserunner Cooper Gray flat-footed trying to round third base to end the inning after the run scored.

The Silverwolves nabbed a pair of more-conventional runs in the bottom of the third with RBI singles by catcher Ryen Edwards and third baseman Parker Applegate to tie the game at 3-3.

Down by two in the bottom of the seventh, Riverton center fielder Gaige Morris drew a leadoff walk and scored on a sacrifice fly by Nelson to make it a 5-4 game with two outs before Hardman struck out Applegate to end the game.

“For him to come all the way back on those, that’s on him,” Ingersoll said of Hardman. “He came back and found ways to get the defense involved. That’s tough.”

Carpenter went 1 for 2 with a pair of walks, a bunt single, two steals, a strikeout and three runs scored for American Fork. Johnson and catcher JD Gardner each had an RBI. Garlick went 1 for 2 with a walk, RBI and a run scored. Center fielder Jack Walker hit an RBI triple off the left-field fence that made it a 5-3 game in the top of the sixth inning.

Riverton left fielder Dylan Sanchez went 2 for 4 with a run and a strikeout. Edwards went 3 for 4 with a stolen base and an RBI. Young went 2 for 3 with an RBI, bunt single and a strikeout.

The two teams combined for eight bunts in the game.

Nelson took the loss with five runs (two earned) on six hits, three strikeouts and four walks in 5 1/3 innings. Edwards went 1 2/3 innings in relief with a hit and a strikeout.

“Our offensive lineup did a great job executing,” Ingersoll said. “We didn’t hit very well today, but we’ll work on that and try to get better for Monday.”

American Fork will next face Region 1 runner-up Clearfield, which knocked off Region 2 champion Cyprus 7-1 on Wednesday to advance to the quarterfinals.

Tavin Stucki has covered prep sports in Utah for more than nine years.