Braves dominate their way to 4A State baseball title
OREM – Five games.
That was the goal of Bountiful baseball coach Clark Stringfellow once the Braves captured a Region 6 crown and a top seed heading into the 4A state baseball tournament.
If five games equaled five wins, the Braves would have their first state title trophy in baseball in two-and-a-half decades.
They accomplished the fifth win last Friday to cap off a 23-win season that saw Bountiful win its last 19 games, including a perfect 14-0 in region play.
“Those guys just came through,” Stringfellow said following the Braves’ 6-4 title-clinching win over Spanish Fork. “I can’t say enough about what they’ve done and what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Bountiful was helped by some sturdy pitching from Parker DePasquale, who allowed four runs and struck out seven hitters in the championship game, as well as timely hitting from Ryan Curtis.
Curtis drove in four runs, including a towering home run to lead off the fifth inning, to guide the Braves’ offense.
The home run was his fourth of the season and second in the playoffs, and was the positive nail in the coffin for the Braves.
“We knew right then that we weren’t going to lose this game,” said DePasquale. “That was the clincher right there.”
However, another player that hadn’t played baseball in nearly six years may have been a secret weapon for the Braves in their run to the state title as well.
Sam Merrill, who scored two runs and hit an RBI single in his first two plate appearances in last week’s championship game, hadn’t played on a baseball diamond since he was in seventh grade, said Stringfellow.
But, he added, Merrill’s efforts were enough for Stringfellow to crown him the best overall athlete in the state.
“Merrill brings everything to this team,” he said. “To play three sports, basically be an All-State player in three sports, to have ice-water in his veins ... he’s just a great athlete.”
The story behind Merrill, said Stingfellow, was a simple one. Merrill approached him one day and said he simply wanted to play baseball.
Two games into the season he was in the lineup, and three games after that he was hitting lead off, and the Braves started their winning streak from that point onward.
“It’s unbelieveable to see someone who wants to be a part of something,” Stringfellow said. “We just focused on one day at a time and being able to stay focused throughout the season. He did a great job.”
DePasquale, who finished the season 8-0 on the mound, said he felt fine after pitching eight innings in two days, including all seven against the Dons.
After all, it was a conversation between DePasquale, catcher Masen Jones and Stringfellow that may have saved his arm from completely going limp in his outing.
“They kept hitting my fastball, so we decided to junk the whole game plan,” DePasquale said. “I only threw three fastballs the rest of the game, and it worked.”
Stringfellow said after the game that even though DePasquale’s arm might figuratively fall off, it was worth it knowing the state championship trophy was right in front of the whole team.
“His arm is going to hang tonight,” he said. “It doesn’t matter now because he’s got all summer to rest it.”
The Braves finished the season with a 19-game winning streak and a 23-6 overall record.