American Legion: St. George Sentinels win again, stay unbeaten in West Regional

Coach Shane Johanson (in red) meets with his team just before the start of Thursday's West Regional game vs. Arizona, Denver, Colo., Aug. 3, 2017 | Photo by Matt Staheli, for St. George News

DENVER – The St. George Sentinels have pitching and defense, necessary qualities for winning baseball games at a high level.

But after Thursday’s 8-5 victory over Arizona in the West Regionals at Metro State University in Denver, the secret is likely out that the Sentinels can swing the bats as well.

St. George ripped 12 hits for the second straight game and never trailed in the second round game against an Arizona team that was one of the favorites to win the West Regional.

“I’m not surprised that we’re playing this well, but I am surprised that we’re one of just two undefeated team left in this regional,” Sentinels coach Shane Johanson said. “You never really know what to expect. We know we have a good team, but this is going to a whole other level.”

St. George, now 28-11 and 2-0 in the West Regional, plays the late 7 p.m. game again Friday against the other unbeaten team in the West Region, Henderson, Nev. The Nevada squad beat the host Colorado team 30-5 on Wednesday and then defeated California 9-1 on Thursday.

The game Thursday started perfectly for the boys from southern Utah. After putting Arizona down quickly in the top of the first, the Sentinels pushed four runs across in the bottom of the inning.

Trey Allred, file photo from Jul. 29, 2017 | Photo courtesy Chris Allred

Speedy Trey Allred led off with an infield single and went to second on a fielder’s choice. Payton Higgins then singled to put runners at the corners with one out. Nick Horsley followed with a full-count RBI single right up the middle to make it 1-0.

A double steal moved the runners up 90 feet, then Alec Flemetakis sent both Higgins and Horsley home with a triple to the fence in left-center, making it 3-0. Weston Sampson then grounded up the middle on a ball that ended up being a ground out, but was deep enough to get Flemetakis home from third to make it 4-0.

The Arizona Firebirds struck back with a run in the third to make it 4-1, but St. George responded with a double by Higgins and an RBI single by Horsley to make it 5-1.

It was 5-2 in the sixth when Allred ripped a two-run double over the right fielder’s head to bring home Sampson and Tobie Swenson, making it 7-2

The Firebirds starting creeping back into the game in the later innings of the nine-inning affair. Rafael Padilla’s two-run double in the top of the eighth made it 7-4 and Padilla scored moments later on a Sentinels error to make it 7-5. A Landon Levine RBI in the bottom of the eighth made it 8-5 heading into the final inning.

Johanson then tabbed Higgins to come in and save the game in the ninth. The former Canyon View star walked the Arizona leadoff batter, then retired two straight to put the game an out from its conclusion. Another walk put the tying run at the plate, then a single loaded the bases with two outs, the potential tying run on base. But Higgins got the final out of the game by retiring Firebirds power hitter Fabian Ferreira on a popup to second base.

“They were a free-swinging, hard-hitting team” Johanson said. “Blake Milne started and did awesome. He threw seven strong innings, and pitched until his arm nearly fell off.  We had to make a change, but Payton Higgins came in and got the save and did his job.”

St. George has now won eight straight, and was led Thursday by hitting stars Allred, Horsley, Higgins and Ryke Erickson, who had two hits each. Higgins also stole two bases and had two walks.

The Sentinels meet Nevada at 7 p.m. Friday with the winner moving on to the semifinals Saturday at 7 p.m. If the Sentinels should happen to lose Friday, they would play an elimination game Saturday at 3 p.m.

“We just have to play our game tomorrow,” Johanson said. “Like I told the guys – it’s about us – executing and making the plays – and we’ll be just fine.”

Johanson said he and his players are proud to represent Utah and especially southern Utah.

“We appreciate the support of all of St. George,” he said. “The Legionnaires (Post 90) have sent an email every day. They said guys are praying for us that haven’t prayed in a very long time. We’ve gotten a lot of support and good wishes by the St. George fans and we feel a responsibility to play our best for them.”

Region 8 (West Region) tournament scoring

Note: The Snow Canyon Junior League team was defeated by Nevada Wednesday and eliminated from the Junior League West Regional by a score of 7-6. The SC Junior League (14-15-year olds) went 1-2 in the West Regional.

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