Spartans steal Helpers spot
It seemed destined. Kids from Carbon who had won the state 3A baseball championship last spring: the 3A and 1A baseball players of the year. Some of the best baseball players Emery County could offer in the age bracket and two of the best players from last years East Carbon High state playoff team.
It seemed to be destiny that these kids would go on to win the American Legions state championship this year, go on to the regional tournament at a familiar field with familiar fans in Salt Lake and then a trip to Yakima, Wash. to the AL World Series.
They seemed destined. Their bats had been hot, even in low scoring games they had still nailed many hits and they probably had the best pitchers in the state.
They had beat the team they faced on Wednesday night at Oquirrh Park in Kearns handily earlier this season.
But destiny has a funny way of fooling us and doing things we don't expect.
On the Wednesday night trip home from the game, instead of thinking about meeting a formidable foe in Bingham or West Jordan, Helpers players and coaches were thinking about a barbecue next week where they would be turning their uniforms in.
All that was due to an unexpected loss to Murray in a game the Helper team had basically won easily until the sixth inning.
"We had them beat," said team manager Jeff Cisneros on Friday morning. "We were ahead 7-2 going into the sixth inning and then things just went bad."
The game had begun well with Helper's Matt Kloepfer hitting an out of the park home run on the teams first at bat early in the game. Murray must have been devastated by that blow, but somehow they shore things up and just kept coming at the kids from eastern Utah.
However there was a wall they needed to overcome and that was in the form of the recently reactivated Josh Greenwood, who returned to his first game back after a broken ankle injury in the middle of the season by pitching until the sixth inning.
"Greenwood did a great job for us right up until that inning," said Cisneros. "But Murray got a few hits on him at the beginning of the sixth and I was concerned that he looked tired so I pulled him."
Emery's Travis Barnett was inserted on the mound, but despite the fact Barnett has held teams at bay all season, somehow the Murray batters made quick work of his pitching and began to score. With runners already on base from the few hits they had obtained at the expense of Greenwood's fatigue, they hit three more singles driving in three runs making the score only 7-5 in favor of Helper.
Then Murray's Clayne Garrett tripled with the bases loaded and that put the Helper club behind 9-7.
Helper couldn't score in the bottom of the sixth, but when the coaches brought Blake Wilde in to pitch against Murray in the top of the seventh, Murray couldn't get any more runners across home either as he allowed only one hit and took them out of the offensive stance and put them back on the defensive.
Helper had often been in this spot this season, so fans and players were fairly confident that they could record three runs in the bottom of the inning to win the game.
Unfortunately, the gods of baseball were not smiling on them this night as a couple of strike outs and a hit right at a Murray infielder ended the game and the season.
Some of the players were philosophical about the situation; some will play in high school and at the legion level again next year, others are going on to play in college. But a number had tears in their eyes as they left the field.
In terms of batting, Helper put together almost all of their runs recorded on the permanent record with singles strung together. That was of course with the exception of Kloepfer's home run.
Of note is the fact that for the last four years, the last seeded team from the Salt Lake Valley League, who earned that spot by having to play in the second eight field fight for two spots made it to the championship game on Saturday.
Almost everyone knew West Jordan would be there, but few felt Murray would make it.
And because the regional championships are being held at Franklin-Covey Field this year, Utah gets two teams in. Murray will be one of them despite the fact that they lost to West Jordan on Saturday night in a long game that went 12 innings until almost 1 a.m. The score was 12-9.
Helper can take some solace in that they lost to one of the eventual champions, but that is probably little comfort when a group of kids have come so close.
But it isn't quite over for Helper fans and players yet. On Tuesday evening the Helper team will face a group of "old timers" who have played with the program in the past. The game will take place at Gardner Field at 7 p.m.
It will be one last chance for fans to thank these kids for the great season they have provided to the baseball lore and people of Carbon and Emery counties.