No guts, no glory: Dixie gamble pays off as Flyers take state

Dixie vs. Desert Hills, 4A State Baseball Championship, St. George, Utah, May 19, 2018, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – With all the offensive fireworks this year at the 4A state tournament, it was perhaps a little surprising that the championship game came down to defense, pitching and one fundamentally-sound squeeze play for the title.

With two strikes and one out, Kayler Yates laid down a perfect bunt on a suicide squeeze play and Blake Oaks slid safely across the plate to lift Dixie to a 1-0 victory over Desert Hills in the 4A state championship Saturday at Bruce Hurst Field.

The victory lifts the Flyers to their second straight state championship and eighth overall. After the celebration, all anyone could talk about was the gutsy squeeze play at the end.

“It was a risky play,” Yates said. “He gave me the sign … and they just threw a pitch that was pretty easy to bunt. I got it down and as soon as I did, I knew we had scored. I’ve been a pretty good bunter in the past and he just threw me a really good pitch to bunt.”

Dixie’s Blake Oaks (27) scores the game winning run on a suicide squeeze, Dixie vs. Desert Hills, 4A State Baseball Championship, St. George, Utah, May 19, 2018, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Oaks, who had doubled to lead off the inning, went to third on a sacrifice bunt by Hobbs Nyberg. With slugger Tyson Fisher on deck, Yates stepped to the plate showing no signs of a sacrifice. He worked the count to 2-2, swinging and missing at the second strike.

“I hesitated early in the count because we had Tyson on deck,” Dixie coach Danny Ipson said. “I had no doubt Kayler would get the bunt down, it was just a matter of if he could keep it fair. But even if it was foul, that would be a strikeout and then we’d have Fisher coming up with two outs.”

With two strikes, the Thunder defense backed up a little until they saw Yates square to bunt. By then Oaks was on his way home.

Dixie’s Blake Oaks (27) is congratulated by his team after scoring the game winning run, Dixie vs. Desert Hills, 4A State Baseball Championship, St. George, Utah, May 19, 2018, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

“When he said suicide squeeze, I was like, ‘Let’s do this,'” Oaks said. “So I just trusted in my coach and I got halfway and then scored. I was not worried at all – Kayler’s the best bunter. And he laid it down perfectly. It was perfect.”

With the sliding walk-off, Dixie’s dugout emptied and the Flyers dog-piled Yates and Oaks. It was a release of a pressure valve in a game that had little margin for error on either side. Both teams had chances to score, but ultimately succumbed to great defense and the dominant pitchers, Dixie’s Fisher and DH’s Dallen Turner.

Dixie similarly won the 3A championship last year in walk-off fashion. But in that game, freshman Cooper Vest hit a home run in the bottom of the seventh for the victory. This time, it was a pair of juniors in Yates and Oaks who combined on the winning play. But the big moment would never have been there if not for the pitching of the senior Fisher, who put on a classic duel with Desert Hills hurler Turner.

Desert Hills’ Dallen Turner (3), Dixie vs. Desert Hills, 4A State Baseball Championship, St. George, Utah, May 19, 2018, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

“Turner pitched a great game,” Dixie second baseman Hobbs Nyberg said. “He did amazing. He really had us reaching for stuff. I don’t think he could have pitched any better. And Tyson, man, that kid’s got heart. I know he probably wasn’t feeling 100 percent, but he left it all out there and gave us his all.”

Fisher ended up with the complete-game victory, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out eight. Turner was up for the challenge, allowing just four hits and four walks while striking out 11 batters. The two teams combined to go 8 for 43 at the plate against the aces (.186 batting average).

The Thunder had two on in the top of the first after a double by Bo Barben and a one-out walk by Bronson Andrus. But Fisher got a pair of groundouts to get out of the jam.

The Flyers then loaded the bases on Turner in the bottom of the third after a pair of walks and a single by Reggie Graff. But Turner got three strikeouts in the inning to survive the threat.

The first two men were on for Desert Hills in the top of the fifth when Jaxton Reber and Jayden Peterson both singled. But Vest speared a hard liner hit by Landon Levine and gunned it over to third for a double play to help kill the potential rally.

“That was huge,” Ipson said. “The thing I wanted was to have our best defensive lineup out there and with Cooper at first base, I felt it did that. That play and the scoop play earlier in the game were two plays that saved some runs for us.”

Dixie’s Tyson Fisher (18), Dixie vs. Desert Hills, 4A State Baseball Championship, St. George, Utah, May 19, 2018, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Fisher, who picked up his seventh win of the year, retired the last seven batters he faced, including striking out the side in the top of the seventh.

When asked to compare the two championship teams, Ipson deferred.

“Having a team is like having a kid, you’ve got to treat each one differently,” he said. “We’ve had to mix and match and do some things differently to get through our season and stay together. So there really is no comparison with the two teams, other than the heart that was shown right to the very end.”

Ipson also praised his seniors, who finish their high school careers as two-time state champs.

“Anytime you’ve got a Hobbs Nyberg on the field, he’s going to lead by example and leave it all out on the field,” he said. “Same things with Tyson. He’s got the attitude and be able to know that he’s going to perform out there and that permeates through the program. And you can go through it, with the same for Payden (Harrah) and Chase (Lundin) and Wyatt (Woodland). And Boston Miller, he’s come to practice everyday and worked hard and never saw the field. Never complained, never nothing. So I love that kid, too.”

Dixie ends the year with a 27-3 record, having won 16 of their final 17 games. Desert Hills finishes the year 21-8. Three of their eight losses were to Dixie.

Note: Vest, who pitched a shutout against Juan Diego in the semifinals, finishes the year with an earned run average of 0.26, which is the second lowest in the history of baseball in Utah.

4A state baseball championships at Bruce Hurst Field
Wednesday’s results

Dixie 4, Pine View 3
Lehi 4, Orem 3 (F/9) (Orem eliminated)
Spanish Fork 11, Sky View 0 (Sky View eliminated)
Juan Diego 5, Desert Hills 1
Salem Hills 6, Bear River 3 (Bear River eliminated)
Snow Canyon 6, Park City 2 (Park City eliminated)
Spanish Fork 10, Lehi 7 (Lehi eliminated)
Snow Canyon 3, Salem Hills 1 (Salem Hills eliminated)

Thursday’s results
Desert Hills 9, Spanish Fork 8 (Spanish Fork eliminated)
Snow Canyon 7, Pine View 5 (Pine View eliminated)
Desert Hills 18, Snow Canyon 2 (Snow Canyon eliminated)

Friday’s schedule of games
4:30 p.m. – 4A semifinal – Dixie 10, Juan Diego 0
7 p.m. – Desert Hills 14, Juan Diego 4 (Juan Diego eliminated)

Saturday’s schedule of games
11 a.m. – 4A championship – Dixie 1, Desert Hills 0

UHSAA 4A bracket

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