WEST VALLEY CITY – The St. George Sentinels swept two games from Pleasant Grove (6-5 and 4-2) and captured the American Legion state championship Saturday at Gates Field at Kearns High School.
The victory gives St. George the title and an all-expenses paid trip to the American Legion Western Regional in Denver next week. It’s been 12 years since a team from southern Utah has won the state title. No team from St. George has ever made it past the West Regional to the National Tournament in North Carolina.
“We’re looking to change that,” Sentinels coach Shane Johanson said. “They told us that no St. George team has ever won more than a game or two at the West Regional, but we feel like we have the team to change that and make some things happen.”
Johanson had said his team had “five or six” pitchers ready to go for Saturday’s championship games. As it turned out, the Sentinels needed just two of those arms – Blake Milne and Jagun Leavitt.
Milne, who shutout Pleasant Grove in the Utah South Regional championship last week, held PG to a single run going into the seventh in the 3 p.m. “championship” game. Pleasant Grove rallied for four in the seventh and had the potential tying run at second base before Milne finally recorded the last out, forcing the “if necessary” game.
In that second game, Leavitt was sharp, despite having not pitched all summer. He allowed just five hits and two unearned runs as the Sentinels never trailed in the 4-2 win.
“There’s no way, back when I pitched, that I could have done what Jagun did today,” Johanson said. “He hasn’t pitched for more than two months, but was sharp and really had his curveball working. Pleasant Grove is a good fastball hitting team, so having his curve was key today.”
The Sentinels gave Leavitt a 3-run cushion to work with. Trey Allred singled and scored on a double by Payton Higgins to lead off the game. In the top of the third, Allred and Leavitt singled and scored on hits by Alec Flemetakis and Weston Sampson to make it 3-0 and Leavitt held that lead throughout the game.
Things got a little dicey in the bottom of the fifth as a big St. George error led to two unearned runs for Pleasant Grove, making it 3-2. But Leavitt, who had a 1.92 earned run average this spring for Pine View High School, shut PG down the rest of the game. The Sentinels added an insurance run in the top of the seventh on a squeeze bunt RBI by Ryke Erickson to get a little wiggle room.
Pleasant Grove got one runner on in the bottom of the seventh, but Leavitt struck out two of the next three batters to close out the game and spawn a dogpile on the infield of Gates Field (the same place Leavitt and his Panther teammates celebrated a state title two springs ago).
“Jagun was outstanding,” Johanson said. “He got stronger as the game went along and ended up pitching all seven innings. A champion heart!”
The Sentinels, 26-11, also earned more hardware to go along with their state championship trophy. Allred, who was “on base all tournament,” according to his coach, was named tourney offensive MVP, and Nick Horsley, who holds the St. George Sentinels single-season RBI record (48) was given a $2,500 scholarship by the Utah American Legion for his outstanding play as well as his leadership and citizenship.
The Sentinels have little time to prepare for the West Regional. The team flies out Tuesday in time for the West Regional banquet Tuesday night and then St. George does battle with New Mexico at 1 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s a pretty cool deal to be able to go to the Western Regional – they take care of you,” Johanson said. “Another cool thing is they have a game tracker on their website so fans who can’t make it out there can follow us pitch-by-pitch on their American Legion website.”
Teams participating in the Western Regional are California, Nevada, New Mexico, Hawaii, Utah, Colorado (two teams) and Arizona.
“We were on mission since the beginning of summer and we felt like we had the horses get there, even after we lost the first game of the state tournament,” Johanson said. “Mentally, we decided to play like men and not feel sorry for ourselves. Nobody gave up. Each game, it got a little easier and we got a little looser. When you have this many talented kids, kids who are used to playing and being stars, it can be a challenge just trying get everybody to gel together. This week, staying together, we built more team unity – it was a bunch of brothers cheering hard for each other until the end. It was fun to see.”
Johanson said he had a flood of different emotions after the championship, but paused to thank assistant coach Glen McLellan and the Southwest Baseball Academy and coach Mike Gargano.
After the tourney-opening 5-4 loss to North Cache, St. George won six straight state tournament games by a combined score of 59-20.
American Legion State Tournament
Jul. 26-29 @ Gates Field, Kearns High School
Wednesday (first round)
Game 1 – 10:30 a.m. – Helper 4, Lone Peak 0
Game 2 – 1:30 p.m. – North Cache 5, St. George 4
Game 3 – 4:30 p.m. – Pleasant Grove 11, Bear River 8
Game 4 – 7:30 p.m. – Vernal 7, Layton 5
Game 5 – 10:30 a.m. – St. George 11, Lone Peak 1 (at Pleasant Grove)
Game 6 – 1:30 p.m. – Layton 11, Bear River 1 (at Pleasant Grove)
Thursday (no loss)
Game 7 – 11 a.m. – North Cache 9, Helper 7 (at Kearns)
Game 8 – 2 p.m. – Pleasant Grove 8, Vernal 7 (at Kearns)
Game 9 – 4:30 p.m. – Layton 8, Helper 4 (Kearns)
Game 10 – 7:30 p.m. – St. George 17, Vernal 7 (Kearns)
Game 11 – 1 p.m. – St. George 9, Layton 3 (at PG)
Game 12 – 4 p.m. – Pleasant Grove 14, North Cache 0 (at PG)
Game 13 – 7 p.m. – St. George 12, North Cache 2 (at PG)
Game 14 – 3 p.m. – St. George 6, Pleasant Grove 5 (Kearns)
Game 15 – 6 p.m. –St. George 4, Pleasant Grove 2 (Kearns)
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