Miners baseball leads Region 11
April 15, 2018
The Park City High School Miners baseball team is on a roll. As of Wednesday, the varsity team was 8-0 in Region 11 after polishing off Tooele in two games of a three-game series.
Just before 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the Miners were in the process of making their record 9-0 region play, 12-4 overall. At the top of the sixth inning, Tooele, at bat, was trailing 0-3. They had a runner on third and their designated hitter, Griffen Bate, was at bat with two strikes and two balls.
The Miners' Wyatt Hudgens, a senior who pitched the whole game, threw a breaking ball that skipped off catcher Payton Gross's knee and rolled over to the Miners' dugout – a dropped third strike. Bate took off toward first while the runner on third bolted for home. Gross ran to the ball, scooped it up just as the runner crossed home plate, and threaded a throw to first baseman Colton Thompson's outstretched glove, which closed like a trap. Bate was half a stride from reaching the plate.
"It just kind of got away from me," Gross said after the game. "And I was lucky enough to be able to throw it. I'd never practiced that play before so I just said 'Whatever happens, happens,' and threw it."
It was Tooele's third out of the inning, a forced out — and though the Buffaloes didn't know it, the closest they would get to scoring against the Miners.
The Miners are now 10-0 in region at the season's midpoint, and is starting to hit its stride after a rocky start in St. George at the beginning of the season.
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After dropping four games in non-region play, the team has eked out a series win against Stansbury in two 4-2 wins, to start the region season, then built steadily, earning wins through outstanding defensive play, racking up a pair of blowouts over Ben Lomond on April 3 and 4. The team regards those games collectively as a turning point in its offensive ability, which was lackluster in St. George. The Miners churned out 27 runs in two games against the Scots, conceding none, then won the third game in the series 11-1 on April 6. Tooele didn't fare much better, losing to the Miners 4-15 and 3-11 on April 9. Wednesday's matchup was the closest in scoring since the Stansbury series.
Hudgens said he's enjoyed being part of the team's ascension.
"It just seems like everything kind of clicked," he said after Wednesday's game. "Our defense clicked, then with this series we saw the hitting come together, which has been big. We've been kind of banging the ball around the yard a little bit, which has been something we missed in the first part of the year. … we're going to work really hard to keep the bats hot, and that's something I'm excited to see."
Head coach David Feasler said the pitcher had a standout performance – allowing only two hits in seven innings and no runs.
Ask how Hudgens pitches and the word "tempo" will get thrown around a lot. He likes to keep the game moving, doesn't want to lose any focus between at-bats, and sometimes this means the umpire will try and slow him down.
Hudgens started the game by throwing successful inside fastballs, adding more breaking balls as the game went on and focusing on keeping the pitch count low.
"They had some guys that could put the bat on the ball, so it was really important to know who I was facing and the pitches I was going to use against them," he said, adding that Tooele's pitcher also had a good game. "They are a good ball team – better than they were last year — but we just got a couple (runs) early and that was the difference in the game."
Hudgens had pitched an earned run average of 1.80 in 22 innings before Wednesday's game, while the team has an overall ERA of 2.5. The Miners' defensive prowess is backed up by a run differential of 85 scored, 15 allowed in Region 11 games.
But the Miners' success in the region may not necessarily translate to success in the Class 4A state championship. The Miners are 12-4 overall, with losses to: Highland, 0-3 in Class 5A's Region 6, Grantsville, No. 1 in 3A's Region 13, Pine View, which the Miners lost to 8-3 on March 9 and is No. 3 in 4A's Region 9 behind Dixie (5-0, 18-2), and Snow Canyon (6-0, 18-1).
But Feasler said the team is getting adequate experience in its region. He said the series against Stansbury and an upcoming series against Juan Diego Catholic High School – currently just behind PCHS in Region 11, with a record of 8-0, 10-4 — are enough to keep the Miners sharp for the postseason.
At the start of the season, the team set a goal of winning region, though to achieve both that and success at the state championship, the team is focusing on the present moment.
"We're 9-0 right now, so we just have to win 9 more," Gross said. "It's never really on our minds that far in the future. It's more like 'This is how we're going to win Juan Diego' or 'This is how we're going to win Stansbury.'"
The Miners will play Juan Diego Catholic High School at Park City High School on April 17, away on April 18, then at home again on April 20 at 3:30 p.m., which will be accompanied by a free tailgate party. Senior pitcher and team leader Sam Strader will take the mound.