OREM — Pleasant Grove never got down but instead maintained a strong feeling that things would turn out for the best throughout Friday's extra-inning thriller versus Lone Peak for the 6A championship. That leveled approach and the belief to just keep at it eventually paid the highest of dividends as Jackson Hill drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom half of the ninth inning to give his team a 5-4 win and the state championship.
"It was pretty nerve-wracking knowing that pitch as going to make or break it," Hill said referring to the pitch that was coming after working the count full. "When I saw it up I just smiled and it just felt so good to finally be state champs. It doesn't feel real."
Leading off the ninth inning was Brock Watkins, who came through just as he has so many times throughout his career by slapping through a single. Jake Fryer then drew a walk before Payton Norman was given first base after getting hit by a pitch, all setting up Hill's final at-bat.
Turns out Watkins' hit in the ninth was just one of many stellar moments for the senior bound for BYU.
While productive from the plate throughout, some of his best work came in the field, making standout play after standout play from his shortstop position. A leaping catch of a ball that was headed toward the gap for an early out, along with fielding several tough ground balls throughout, highlighted his effort.
"He's the best player in the state. Everybody knows it," appraised Watkins' coach Darrin Henry. "He may not get every award, but he's the best player in the state. … You saw the plays he made today."
From the plate, Watkins went 4-5 and a single RBI that proved at least as clutch as Hill's championship-winning walk.
Trailing 4-3 in the bottom half of the seventh inning, Watkins took to the plate knowing it was on him to get something going, and he didn't disappoint. The senior took a pitch and roped it, clearing the left-center field fence by a good margin to suddenly tie things at 4-4.
"I knew he'd do something big," Hill said of his teammate's home run. "I didn't know it would be a home run, but when he hit it — it was just amazing."
"I was just trying to split a gap because I knew the guys behind me would get it done," Watkins said of his approach at the plate leading off the seventh. "I was just trying to get my pitch and hit it good."
While favored going into Friday's game as the only team remaining with no losses in the double-elimination tournament, the Vikings knew Lone Peak would give them all they could handle. Sure enough, the Knights led through most of the game, boosted by a home run off the bat of Chase Comer that led to a two-run fourth inning that gave them a 4-3 lead.
But Pleasant Grove didn't take time to threat, confident that good things would eventually break its way.
"It seemed as if we hit so many balls hard at (Lone Peak), and I was just like, 'Guys, just keep pushing and keep pushing and it's going to happen,'" Henry said. "So when Brock Watkins came up, I had the feeling he was going to do something special like he always does."
From the mound, it was Kreed Trane entering the game midway through the fourth inning to hold the Knights scoreless for 4 and 2/3 innings while allowing just two hits.
"Kreed Trane coming in to do the pitching job he did was unbelievable," Henry said.
While every state championship is memorable, Friday's proved particularly so for Henry, who won the first Pleasant Grove state championship in 1987 with Watkins' father.Comment on this story
"We were best friends growing up," Henry said of his relationship with Watkins' father. "Now we get to share this one with our kids."
Other standout performances for the Vikings came from Kyler Lester and Norman, who both finished 2-4 for from the plate to match Hill's same effort. But as is often the case, every player on the Pleasant Grove roster was quick to credit each and every player in the dugout.
"We came together to get this done and it's just an unreal feeling right now," Hill summed up. "We battled through adversity and just worked so hard to get here. It just feels incredible."