ST. GEORGE — Piute High School cemented its legacy as a four-time state champion after rallying to beat Panguitch 4-3 in a thrilling 1A baseball state championship game Monday at Snow Canyon High School.
“That’s the best game we’ve had in a state championship in a long time,” Piute coach Travas Blood told St. George News. “Panguitch gave 100%, whoever’s game it was, they had the right to win it. Really good game.”
The key matchup was on the pitcher’s mound as right-handed hurlers Gavin Morgan from Piute and Kyler Bennett from Panguitch dueled each other pitch for pitch and threw complete games.
Bennett threw 99 pitches in the contest while Morgan threw 98.
“I thought Kyler threw a good game,” Blood said. “It started out kind of shaky for us, but once Gavin got warmed up I think we held our own. We just chipped away at their lead a little at a time and held them scoreless the rest of the game. Came up big in the end.”
Panguitch came out swinging in the top of the first inning and plated three quick runs off of Morgan.
Klyn Fullmer led off with a double, then scored on a double by Bennett.
Consecutive singles from Jaron Miller and Tucker Chappell scored a run, and then Shae Miller hit an RBI double and the Bobcats led 3-0 before Piute had even batted.
Morgan said he was “worried a little bit” after his rough first inning, “but I knew we’re a good team, and we always fight back.”
Kel Blood helped Piute start chipping away with his RBI double in the bottom of the second that made the score 3-1.
Then Morgan helped his own cause with an RBI single in the bottom of the third that cut the Panguitch lead to 3-2.
After that, Bennett retired the side in order in the fifth and sixth innings, keeping the Piute hitters at bay with a curve ball and well-placed fastballs.
Panguitch coach Rawley Burningham said that Bennett is the kind of player he would pick first to put on the mound or in the batter’s box for his team.
“I want him sitting by my side not just in sports but in life,” Burningham said. “A kid that I want my kids to watch. Just a great kid all around. My hat’s off to him.”
A quickly played game reached the decisive seventh inning as a strong wind blew and rain threatened to fall.
Morgan allowed a single but retired the Panguitch side in the top of the seventh, and the Thunderbirds were down one run on their last at-bat.
Daxon Morrill worked a 5-pitch walk from Bennett to start the winning rally. After a groundout, Brooks Dalton singled to put runners on the corners.
Jaden Westwood followed with a single off the glove of the Bobcats shortstop that scored Morrill, and Piute tied the game 3-3.
Morgan was given an intentional pass, loading the bases as Bennett hoped to induce an inning-ending double play.
But Thunderbirds pinch hitter Jesse James hit a hard single that allowed Dalton to cross the plate and secure Piute’s walk-off win.
Piute finished the season with a perfect 23-0 record and won its fourth consecutive 1A state title, but it sure didn’t come easy.
“It’s great. This was how we wanted to do this. We all did,” Morgan said. “We’ve been playing a lot of baseball since we grew up, and this is a great way to win today.”
Panguitch ended a solid season at 19-4, with three of those losses coming against Piute.
Burningham said that’s what high school baseball – and high school sports in general – is about.
“I feel like we were the better team today, but sometimes the best team doesn’t always come out on top. At the end of the day we tip our caps to Piute and their staff and their school for a great ballgame.”
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