ST. GEORGE — An unfamiliar — and unexpected — team is wreaking havoc on Region 9 baseball clubs in the early stages of the 4A state baseball playoffs.
The Bear River Bears have upset two Region 9 teams in two rounds of the playoffs, eliminating one and sending another to the brink in jaw-dropping fashion.
As the No. 9 seed, they went on the road and ended No. 8 Crimson Cliffs’ season in a tightly-played three-game set. But their encore was even more impressive, besting No. 1 seed Desert Hills 8-6 in eight innings on Tuesday and sending Utah’s highest ranked club to the loser’s bracket straight out of the gate.
It begs the question: Who is this team that finished third in their region and what makes them such a thorn in the side of Region 9?
“Our whole program philosophy is we’re never out of a fight,” Bear River assistant coach Tristan Boyce said. “We don’t usually string a bunch of runs together, we’ll occasionally have a big inning, but usually we’re just timely when we need them. We don’t really have anybody on the team with an ego.”
It’s a club that manufactures on both sides of the ball. Against Desert Hills, they countered Payton Gubler’s 90 mph fastball with the submarining Derek Dean, who topped out in the low 70s. In the decisive game three against Crimson Cliffs, they laid down three straight bunts when they were down to their final three outs in the face of elimination.
Bear River led Region 11 teams with 217 runs scored in their 29 games. Second-place Ridgeline had 171. The Bears’ 126 runs allowed was middle of the pack.
Bear River finished 8-7 in Region 11 and 17-12 overall, including a 7-1 loss to Dixie on March 13.
The bunts against Crimson ignited a rally that gave Bear River a lead that would advance them out of the regional round a half inning later.
Bear River took the first game of the Crimson Cliffs series 6-2. Ashton Harrow outdueled Jaiven Ross, limiting the Mustangs to eight hits over a complete game, only one of which went for extra bases. Bear River’s offense scattered 10 hits, all singles, but got the leadoff man on in four innings.
Crimson Cliffs scratched out a one-run win in game two, overcoming an early 3-0 deficit. Bear River led 5-2 in game three before giving up three runs in the sixth to trail with just one inning to play.
After Jayz Estridge homered to give the Mustangs the lead, Boyce said the Bears used his bat flip as motivation in the seventh. They laid down three bunts toward Estridge at third after drawing a leadoff walk in the seventh. Alec Callister’s bunt induced an error by Estridge, allowing a run to score. Hunter Smoot’s bunt single put the go-ahead run on third, who scored on a bunt back to pitcher in the next at-bat.
Against Desert Hills, Dean threw 4.1 perfect innings to start the game. He didn’t record a strikeout but limited the potent Thunder lineup to just three hits over his five innings of work.
”No hits in four innings, he must’ve done something,” Desert Hills coach Kevin Cave said. “We were putting balls in play but they weren’t hit hard enough to be knocks.”
The Thunder rallied for four runs in the sixth to take a one-run lead but the Bears reached base in their first two plate appearances in the top of the seventh and first four in the extra-inning eighth to keep the pressure on.
Bear River became one of three teams to upset the higher seed in four games on day one of the playoffs. They take on No. 5 Mountain Crest at Cate Field at 4:30 p.m.
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