ST. GEORGE — When the Desert Hills Thunder traveled to Dixie on Tuesday, it was the first time in 672 days the two teams had met. A state championship followed by a pandemic, sprinkled with the graduations and subsequent departures of slews of key members from those rosters that met on May 21, 2019 and the teams were back again, playing Region 9 baseball against each other.
Dixie, the Region 9 champion in 2019, fell to the Thunder in a 16-3 blowout at the hands of the Thunder two years ago in the state finals at Dixie State University. The Flyers missed their chance at revenge in 2020 when the season was canceled in mid-March due to COVID-19. The Thunder, the still-reigning 4A Utah state champions due to the lost season, go on title defense now. The two teams, after respectable preseason efforts each, clashed head-to-head to begin the regular season, each taking one game in the home-and-home series.
But the teams are different this year. Only three players from Dixie in that championship game remain. One is Hunter Knighton, who will likely miss the vast majority of, if not the entire, baseball season due to a knee injury sustained during football. Chandler Reber is the only player from Desert Hills that took part in the championship game still with the team.
“Really, all we’re focusing on is being able to come out and trying to get a region win and not really worrying about what the records are,” Dixie head coach Danny Ipson said following his team’s win on Tuesday. “In this region, it doesn’t really matter. Everybody is good. Every game is going to be competitive.
Dixie started with a 6-3 home win on Tuesday, handing Desert Hills their first loss of the season after a 7-0 start.
Malcolm Bartholomew got the ball for the Flyers, tossing a complete game on 109 pitches. He struck out eight in seven innings and issued no walks.
Bartholomew got in early trouble after getting two quick outs in the first. Reber singled and Reggie Newby took two quick balls and was able to sit on a pitch he liked. He got one he liked and drilled it over the left field fence to give the Thunder an early 2-0 lead. Bartholomew settled down in the next few innings, allowing singles in each of the second, third and fourth but allowing no other base runners.
In the meantime, the Flyers got the bats going. Luis Acuna drew a leadoff walk before Bartholomew and Jacob St. Cyr recorded back-to-back singles. The right fielder had issues coming up with the ball on St. Cyr’s hit, allowing Acuna to score and the two trail runners to advance a base. Shea Anderson drove in Avery Anderson, his brother and courtesy runner for Bartholomew, on a ground out to first and St. Cyr scored on a Brieten Oaks single to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead.
They added to the lead in the fourth after Grayson Erickson hit a double, advanced on a ground out and scored when Bartholomew reached on a dropped strike three, drawing the throw to first. In the fifth, they got runs five and six after St. Cyr walked and Shea Anderson and Oaks hit back-to-back triples. Oaks was doubled off of third base on a nice diving catch at third base by Jackson Turley.
The Thunder once again got only one hit in the sixth, but it was a Chandler Reber double to lead off the frame. He came around to score on a throwing error on a Joey Brooks ground ball. Trailing 6-3 in the top of the seventh, the Thunder got the tying run to the plate after Luke Orchard and Cole DeCastro each singled. However, after Karson Irvin struck out on a dropped strike three, DeCastro broke for second and was hung out to dry with Orchard remaining on the base and they gifted Dixie an out. Payton Gubler lined out to short to end the game.
Kaden Terry, Desert Hills’ starter, struck out five in four innings of work. He allowed four earned runs but only two were earned. Newby allowed a pair of earned runs in the fifth with two walks in his inning of work. Turley allowed a hit in the sixth but did not give up any more damage. Reber, Turley and DeCastro each had two hits.
For Dixie, Oaks and St. Cyr each had two-hit games.
The series shifted to Desert Hills on Wednesday.
Gubler stifled the Flyers offense over six innings, striking out nine and allowing just three hits. The Flyers didn’t get a runner into scoring position until there were two outs in the third on a St. Cyr double. They didn’t get a runner to third base until the seventh inning, once Gubler was out of the game. Even then, it took an error in right field to move the runner there until Oaks hit a home run to get the Flyers on the board with just one out to go in the game.
“My curveball was definitely my strength tonight,” Gubler said after the win. “I think just going after them with the fastball and moving ahead, that definitely set me up to be able to throw better pitches.”
Offensively, the Thunder scored in the first again with the help from the Dixie defense. Reber lined a hit to right that was misplayed by St. Cyr, allowing Turley to score from first, who only reached himself on an error by Ridge Erickson.
The Thunder increased the lead to 2-0 in the fourth as Reber hit a long homer going the other way over the right field fence. They broke the game open in the fifth on a Turley double, scoring a pair of runs and once again aided by a Dixie error. DeCastro scored cleanly on the hit, but Jayden Davis’ bobble in left allowed Gubler to score as well.
Desert Hills scored three more unearned runs in the sixth as the first two hitters in the inning reached on errors before scoring on a wild pitch, a single by Terry and a walk to Gubler.
In Dixie’s last chance, Avery Anderson also reached via error before Bartholomew walked. Both scored on Oaks’ long homer over the right-center fence.
Grayson Erickson struck out 10 on the mound for Dixie, walking two and allowing only three hits in 5.1 innings. However, the Flyers defense committed five errors behind him resulting in six runs, only two of which were earned. Desert Hills recorded only four hits in the game, two by Reber.
“We really wanted this one tonight,” Desert Hills first-year head coach Kevin Cave said. “It was more just a test tonight of our resolve. It was our first chance to respond to a loss.”
Dixie moved to 5-2 after the series and Desert Hills moved to 8-1.
Dixie continues nonconference play with four games from Thursday through Saturday while Desert Hills takes Thursday off before playing three across Friday and Saturday.
The Flyers play Canyon View in Region 9 play next week, while the Thunder play Cedar. Both series start on Tuesday in St. George.
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