St. George Sentinels advance to American Legion baseball state finals

Coby Longman of the St. George Sentinels hits the ball vs. Pleasant Grove in American Legion semifinal baseball game, West Jordan, Utah, July 30, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Jeff Longman, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The St. George Sentinels powered their way into the finals of the American Legion state baseball tournament, thanks to a wild 11-8 win over Pleasant Grove Monday night.

St. George Sentinels players exchange high-fives with Pleasant Grove following their American Legion semifinal baseball game, West Jordan, Utah, July 30, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Janet Staheli, St. George News

Playing at Salt Lake Community College’s campus in West Jordan, the Sentinels batted through the lineup in the bottom of the first inning to take an early 8-0 lead.

“It was great to see our bats finally come alive and get out to a lead early,” Sentinels head coach Shane Johanson told St. George News. “It turned out we needed every run, because Pleasant Grove is tough and they fought to the end of the game. These are big pressure games and no lead is ever safe.”

Highlights from the first inning included a bases-loaded triple by Coby Longman, after which Kage Aki-Paleka singled to score Longman, making the score 6-0 and chasing Pleasant Grove’s starting pitcher.

St. George wasn’t finished, however, as the Sentinels got two additional runs in the first inning, thanks to a single by Dawson Staheli amid multiple successive walks by the relief pitcher.

Pleasant Grove didn’t give up, however, scoring one run in the third and four more in the top of the fifth to pull within three runs, 8-5. The four-run rally in the fifth came after what Johanson called “a couple of uncharacteristic errors for us and some key hits for them.”

“Fortunately, we responded that inning by putting some pressure on with small ball,” Johanson said, referring to St. George’s three-run surge in the bottom of the fifth that padded the Sentinels’ lead back to six runs, 11-5.

The Sentinels started off the fifth inning with a lead-off walk, followed by a pair of bunts and a miscue on Pleasant Grove’s part as they tried to throw out Aki-Pelaka, who scored on the error. Staheli and Alec Flemetakis then both singled to bring one more run on each hit.

Pleasant Grove did manage to score three more runs in the top of the seventh and final inning, two of which were unearned after an infield error by St. George.

L-R: St. George Sentinels players Cody Riddle, Tanner Staheli, Trey Allred and Dawson Staheli following their win over Syracuse, Kearns, Utah, July 28, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Janet Staheli, St. George News

“But, Dawson hung tough and was throwing hard, and he ended it on a strikeout of the Pleasant Grove cleanup hitter,” Johanson said.

Longman, who pitched the first three and one-third innings, was credited with the win. The starter shared pitching duties with Jagger Hadley and Jaiger Crosby, followed by closer Staheli, who earned the save.

“It’s a bit tricky with pitching as you have to manage pitch counts and try to save as much pitching as possible for future games but making sure that you go with your best to win the game you are playing,” Johanson added.

The win gives St. George a day’s rest on Tuesday, as three other remaining teams – Salem Hills, Mountain Crest, and Pleasant Grove – play elimination games in the one-loss bracket to earn the chance to play the Sentinels in Wednesday’s state finals.

Although St. George entered the tournament as the South’s No. 3 seed, they are now poised to defend their state title as the only remaining undefeated team. Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s games are being played at SLCC’s Jordan campus at 3491 W. 9000 South, West Jordan. If the Sentinels should lose the 5 p.m. game Wednesday, the same two teams will play again at 8 p.m., if necessary, for the state American Legion championship. Click here to see updated bracket.

Email: jrichards@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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