OREM – It was the kind of baseball game all other games should aspire to be.
The cast: Dixie vs. Snow Canyon with the state 3A baseball title on the line. The plot: The Warriors play great baseball and threaten to send the Flyers into an “if necessary game” behind a solid pitching performance and an aggressive offense. The unlikely hero: Freshman Cooper Vest. The ultimate ending: Vest hits his first career home run, a three-run shot with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, to lift Dixie to its first state championship in 11 years with a 6-4 win over the Warriors.
Vest, who doesn’t even attend Dixie High School (he’s still in middle school), came to the plate with Snow Canyon leading 4-3. Warriors coach Reed Secrist went out to visit the mound and check on his pitcher, Jed Jensen, who had pitched well against the hard-hitting Flyers. Using the stoppage of play, Dixie coach Danny Ipson took a moment to speak with his young first baseman.
“He’s kind of been in and out of the lineup at that first base spot,” Ipson said. “Before that pitch, I put my arm around him and said, ‘Cooper, when I drew the lineup card up, your name was put in this spot for a reason. Let’s go make it happen.’ Little did I know he was going to go take it over the wall.”
It seems everyone knew the ball was gone as soon as Vest hit it – everyone except Vest himself.
“I was just thinking to get one inside and see what I could do with it,” he said. “I didn’t know it was gone at first. I thought maybe it was off the wall.”
The home run sparked a mad dash onto the field by the Dixie players and they actually tackled Vest before he reached third base. Vest eventually emerged from the dog-pile and finished his home run trot, but the disruption of play caused the umpires to huddle and for a few moments, it looked like the homer might be negated. After the conference, the head ump ruled the first two runs would count, but Vest’s would not, meaning Dixie still won the game, but by a 5-4 score and not 6-4.
Twenty minutes after the game, the call was reversed and the final score will go down in the UHSAA record books as 6-4.
Vest would never have gotten the opportunity if not for some seventh inning heroics from several of his teammates. Tyson Fisher hit a tape measure homer with one out to cut it to 4-3. The ball cleared two fences, a grassy knoll, another fence and landed in a pond on the campus of UVU, perhaps 475 feet from home plate.
With two outs and the bases empty, Wyatt Woodland drew a four-pitch walk to put the potential tying run on base. Kayler Yates followed with a line-drive single between third and short to put runners at the corners. After the time out and pep talk, Vest was sitting dead red and hammered a fastball well over the right field fence.
“I really wasn’t thinking home run, but it just happened, you know,” Vest said. “This is a dream. I had no idea something like this would ever happen to me in my life, but it came and you have to love it.”
Fisher described the game winner from his perspective.
“I knew he was going to come up big, but I didn’t know he was going to hit a freakin’ bomb there,” Fisher said. “Right off the bat, I knew it was gone. I mean, he smoked that ball. You could tell there was no chance that ball was staying in the park.”
Hobbs Nyberg, the team leader all year in batting, also watched with admiration and respect.
“I just saw it off the bat of Cooper and I knew it was gone, and we were just freaking out,” Nyberg said. “It’s pretty short over there in right and he got a hold of it. There’s no way to describe the feeling when he hit that. Cooper’s a stud. He’s the best freshman baseball player I’ve ever seen.”
Snow Canyon, which had beaten Park City 20-3 earlier in the day to make it to the championship game, played well. The Warriors did not trail in the game until the final pitch. SC led 1-0 after a Dixie error and an RBI double by Cannon Secrist in the first inning.
Dixie tied it in the bottom of the fourth on an RBI single to center field by Vest that brought home Jacob English. Speedy Seth Smith put Snow Canyon back on top by scoring on a wild pitch in the top of the fifth.
The Flyers countered with a run in the bottom of the inning as Fisher came home on a groundout by Woodland to tie it at 2-2.
But when the Warriors brought two home in the top of the sixth, it seemed the championship would be decided in that “if necessary” game. Jensen’s sac fly brought home Zach Nowatzke for the 3-2 lead and Jamison Day hit a ball hard enough to second base that Stephen Gubler was able to score from third.
The Flyers had two hits in the bottom of the sixth, but Chase Lundin’s hard liner to the right side was nabbed by Cannon Secrist and he stepped on the bag for a double play to stop the threat.
With a two-run lead and Jensen pitching well, the Warriors looked poise to win the ball game. Jensen retired Dayton Dempsey to start the seventh and still had a 4-3 lead with two outs before the heroic freshman Vest captured the state 3A trophy with his three-run blast.
“Snow Canyon is a great team and we expected them to come out fighting,” Vest said. “Coach said to us going into the bottom of the seventh, ‘Hey guys, we have done this before and been in this situation before when we scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh to win a game. It was actually against Snow Canyon at our field. I feel great and I can’t wait to get back and celebrate with the guys in St. George.”
Vest ended up with three hits and four RBIs in the game, while Fisher also had three hits and scored twice. Ajay Leavitt, a sophomore who pitched a scoreless seventh in relief of Yates for Dixie, was the winning pitcher. Vest also won two games in the state tournament on the mound, as did Fisher.
Jensen gave up 12 hits, but scattered them in the game. He also got help from a couple of double plays from his defense. Kaleb Gates had three hits for Snow Canyon and Cannon Secrist was 2 for 3 with a double and a walk.
The Flyers finish the season by winning 13 straight games, four of those against the Warriors. Dixie, 24-3, was behind by at least two runs in three of their four games against the Warriors before rallying to the wins.
Snow Canyon ends the year with a 19-11 record. The Warriors blasted Park City 20-3 in the Saturday morning elimination game. Austin Deming, just a junior, hit for the cycle in that contest and had a ridiculous seven RBIs to lead the way.
Region 9 finished with a 13-5 record in the state tournament, including the two Dixie wins over Snow Canyon.
“After dropping those two to Desert Hills (at the start of region play), we were in a position where we had to just take it one game at a time,” Ipson said. “It was kind of an inside joke. Hey, it takes two to get a streak and we got two. And then we got four. And right at the end here, it’s 13. We just wanted to work hard and stay with the plan and then literally take it an inning at a time and break it down by the outs.”
Dixie captures its first title since 2006. Ipson was an assistant coach on that team under head man Jeff Messerly. Previous to that, the Flyers last title was when Burke Staheli led them to back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995.
St. George schools have won five of the last six state 3A baseball championships with Snow Canyon taking the 2012 and 2013 titles and Pine View grabbing the 2015 and 2016 crowns. Grantsville beat Desert Hills in the 2014 championship.
Dixie loses just two starting seniors off of this year’s championship team.
3A State Baseball Tournament
Dixie 12, Snow Canyon 2
Park City 7, Pine View 6
Canyon View 7, Bear River 4 (BR eliminated)
Ridgeline 11, Desert Hills 1 (DH eliminated)
Juan Diego 11, Union 1 (Union eliminated)
Carbon 4, Stansbury 2 (Stansbury eliminated)
Canyon View 8, Ridgeline 4 (Ridgeline eliminated)
Juan Diego 14, Carbon 5 (Carbon eliminated)
Friday’s results (all games at UVU)
Dixie 19, Park City 1
Snow Canyon 13, Canyon View 6 (CV eliminated)
Juan Diego 12, Pine View 2 (PV eliminated)
Snow Canyon 17, Juan Diego 2 (JD eliminated)
Saturday’s results (all games at UVU)
Snow Canyon 20, Park City 3
Dixie 6, Snow Canyon 4
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