Kearns • When the baseball-sized welt on Blake Brailsford’s throwing arm swells up and turns the shade of a plum, he’ll gladly wear it as a badge of honor.
On the last play of his outing against Alta, the American Fork senior pitcher was drilled by a line drive back to the mound. He frantically searched for the ball, grabbed it and threw Brittan Wren out at first to secure a dramatic 2-1 win over the Hawks in the Class 5A semifinals on Thursday at Kearns High School.
In a showdown between two dominant pitchers, BYU-signed Brailsford made his mark by holding an Alta offense that scored 44 runs in three playoff games to a single score.
“I knew they were going to hit the ball,” Brailsford said. “I wanted to keep it close, and I knew we’d find a way to win the game.”
The Cavemen took the entire game to deliver some offense, as Alta ace Brett Snyder had a dominant effort through six innings. But after American Fork’s Zac Haws and B.J. Eldredge hit the team’s first back-to-back singles of the contest in the top of the seventh, the Hawks sent Wren to the mound to get the final two outs.
It turned out to be a mistake.
On the very next at-bat, Mo Flinders sent in a run on a game-tying single. Riley Otteson then bashed a sacrifice fly to center that scored Eldredge. In only two batters, the Cavemen had asserted a 2-1 lead after trailing 1-0 since the first.
Snyder, despite throwing six shutout innings and six strikeouts, took both earned runs and the loss.
“I was just excited to be up — I love those situations,” Flinders said. “I think one through nine, we have tough outs in our lineup. I can’t say enough about my teammates — everyone was great.”
For most of the contest, it appeared that Brailsford’s only run would cost him the game. Wren knocked in Mark Cavaness for a run in the first inning that gave them the 1-0 lead. Brailsford also had to work his way out of a number of other tricky situations, stranding five Hawk runners in scoring position.
It was a mostly frustrating day for both the American Fork and Alta offenses, which left a combined 17 runners on base. But the Cavemen cut through the pressure, sending American Fork back to the finals after finishing second last year.
“I think last year having Bingham beat us has definitely fueled our team,” Brailsford said. “It’s been a fun ride for my senior year.”
Taylorsville 5, Alta 0 • The Warriors got a shutout from pitchers Jordan West and Jake Greenberg and nailed 13 hits against Alta to roll to a 5-0 win and advance to Friday’s championship.
Kyle Hoffman led the batting effort with a pair of hits and RBIs. But Dalton Carroll, Larenz Stansfield, Adam Fullmer and Hayden Heugly also had two hits in the game.
Meanwhile, the Hawks’ churning offense was brought to a halt in the one-loss semifinal: The team managed only six hits and left six runners stranded.
“I think the difference was having a lot of bench today,” West said. “They were really loud and helped us a lot.”
The victory avenged an earlier 11-0 defeat to Alta in the second round. The Warriors will be fighting for their first championship since 2001.
Class 5A baseball championship
P Taylorsville vs. American Fork
11 a.m., Gates Field at Kearns High School
If-necessary game will be played 30 minutes after 4A championship