Desert Hills, Dixie to battle for 4A baseball title

Ajay Leavitt bats for Dixie in the Flyers' win over Spanish Fork, St. George, Utah, May 20, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Region rivals Desert Hills and Dixie will meet Tuesday in the 4A state baseball championship game.

Dixie pitcher Cooper Vest delivers a pitch against Spanish Fork, St. George, Utah, May 20, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

The three playoff games that were played Monday at Dixie State University’s Bruce Hurst Field had originally been scheduled for last Friday in Ogden, but those contests were rained out and moved to St. George.

Shortly after Desert Hills knocked Salem Hills into the one-loss bracket early Monday evening, Dixie eliminated the SkyHawks from the tournament with a dramatic 3-2 win. Earlier in the afternoon, the Flyers had defeated Spanish Fork 8-1 to remain in contention in the double-elimination tournament.

That Desert Hills and Dixie would meet in the finals may not be surprising to some, but the two teams took markedly different roads to the championship game. Desert Hills, Region 9’s No. 2 seed, is 4-0 in playoff games thus far, whereas top-seeded Dixie is 6-1, including five straight wins in the elimination bracket.

In the regular season, the Flyers finished with a region record of 11-1, while the Thunder finished second at 10-2. Each team had beaten the other on the road by the same score in the same week: Dixie won 3-0 at Desert Hills on April 2, after which Desert Hills returned the favor with a 3-0 win at Dixie three nights later.

As the region’s second seed, Desert Hills had to travel all the way to Cache County’s Mountain Crest High on May 11, but still managed to win both of its opening-round games that day, beating Tooele first, then Orem. Then, at Ogden last Wednesday, the Thunder beat Spanish Fork 5-2, thereby advancing to the semifinals, where they defeated Salem Hills 6-3 on Monday.

Dixie, meanwhile, hosted its opening round games on May 11, beating Stansbury in the first game 10-4, but falling to Salem Hills 5-0 in the second round.

Then, last Wednesday and Thursday, the Flyers successively knocked Snow Canyon, Tooele and Lehi out of the tournament with elimination victories. Monday, Dixie picked up two more such wins against Spanish Fork and Salem Hills.

Following are short recaps of Monday’s action in St. George. Check back early Tuesday for a full photo gallery of all three of Monday’s games.

Dixie 8, Spanish Fork 1

Grounds crew members work to dry out infield dirt areas following a midgame rainstorm, Dixie vs. Spanish Fork, St. George, Utah, May 20, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

The game started and ended under sunny skies, but was drenched with drizzling rainstorm during the fifth inning, which is when the Flyers broke the 0-0 shutout with a three-run rally. Dixie added five more runs in the bottom of the sixth to take a commanding 8-0 lead.

Spanish Fork mustered one run in the top of the seventh and final inning, capitalizing on a couple throwing errors by Dixie. However, Dixie left-hander Cooper Vest closed out the game with a pair of strikeouts, giving him seven for the game. Vest pitched the entire game, allowing just three hits, no earned runs and one walk.

Dixie meanwhile amassed 12 hits as a team led by Brenden Blanchard, who went 3-for-4 with two RBIs.

Desert Hills 6, Salem Hills 3

Salem Hills took a 3-0 lead in the fourth when three straight batters walked with two outs, followed by a double by left fielder Sawyer Radke that cleared the bases.

Desert Hills picked up its first run in the top of the fifth with an RBI single by Clayton Lott. Then, in the top of the sixth, successive hits by Blake Milne, Landon Levine and Chandler Reber gave the Thunder another couple runs and tied the game 3-3.

Neither team scored in the seventh, sending the game into extra innings.

The Thunder’s Bronson Andrus led things off with a triple in the top of the eighth, followed by Milne drawing a base on balls. Andrus later scored from third on a passed ball. Levine then hit into a fielder’s choice, with Milne scoring on the play. Lance Kinross singled to drive in Levine and put the Thunder ahead 6-3.

Kinross then retired all three SkyHawk batters in the bottom of the eighth to get the win. He pitched the final four innings after relieving starter Drew Thorpe.

Dixie 3, Salem Hills 2

Dixie vs. Salem Hills, St. George, Utah, May 20, 2019 | Photo by Dave Larson, St. George News

In a game that didn’t end until almost 10 p.m. Dixie’s Reggie Graff brought home the game-winning run with a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh, scoring Brenden Blanchard, who’d also singled.

The Flyers had scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the first, but Salem Hills tied it up 1-1 with a run in the top of the second. Salem Hills then pulled ahead 2-1 in the fourth, but Dixie tied it 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth when Blanchard singled to score Blake Oaks.

Tuesday’s championship game is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Dixie State University. If the Flyers defeat Desert Hills in that game, it would force a second, deciding game to be played immediately afterward.

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