Perennial state power Green Valley dominated every aspect of the game and bounced Spanish Springs from the double-elimination tourney, handing the Northern 4A champs a 12-4 losers’ bracket loss.
The loss ended the season for the Cougars, who finish with a 26-11 record and made just their second trip to state in the 10 years since SSHS opened its doors.
“This is one of the best years I’ve had in this program,” Cougars senior catcher Kyle Clark said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I wouldn’t want to be on any other team.”
Green Valley (33-8) took control of the game with a four-run first inning and dumped Spanish Springs starting pitcher Dallas Mellum in the process. Mellum looked like he’d get out of the second without much damage. Green Valley had a runner on first with two outs in a scoreless contest when it went to work.
Mellum hurt his cause by plunking Phillip McGovern and Cooper Manwarren, the Gators No. 8 and 9 hitters, with pitches. That loaded the bases and Mellum forced in the game’s first run when he walked Evan Van Hoosier.
Green Valley proceeded to forge ahead 4-0 after a two-run Gabe Douglas single and an RBI single by Brett Harrison. The two back-breaking hits not only concluded the scoring in the key inning but ended Mellum’s day.
He was tagged with four runs, all earned, working just 1 2-3 innings, allowing three hits while hitting two batters and walking another.
“He got behind in the count and you can’t do that against good teams,” Spanish Springs coach Ben Hofmann said. “You just can’t pitch from behind and expect to have success … To be fair, I thought we’d need to score runs today to give ourselves a chance. We didn’t do that. After watching Green Valley and (five-time defending state champion) Bishop Gorman last night I thought our (first-round) game (a one-run loss) was an aberration. The games would be a lot more about hitting than pitching.”
Spanish Springs, which went down in order in the first, all via the strikeout, tried to stem the tide a bit by answering Green Valley’s early offense. That attempt failed when Kendall Murphy doubled but was called out at the plate later in the inning on a controversial call, retiring the side in the bottom of inning two.
Green Valley added a run in the third, extending its edge to 5-0. Any hopes of a Spanish Springs comeback were effectively wiped away when the Gators tacked on a trio of runs in the fourth.
Douglas singled and walked home when Harrison crushed a home run that cleared the high fence in center field at the College of Southern Nevada’s Lied Field. Chad Whiteaker walked and came around to score after back-to-back singles by Zach Vergeils and Darek Harmon. That left the Sunrise Region runner-up on top 8-0.
Green Valley wasn’t done. The Henderson school kept pouring on, playing like a team that wanted to go home early by implementing the 10-run mercy rule. It nearly did.
The Gators pushed their lead to 12-0 by scoring four runs in the top of the sixth inning. Manwarren highlighted the Gators’ frame with a two-run triple. A walk and a pair of Spanish Springs errors also helped Green Valley get its four scores.
Green Valley retired the first two Spanish Springs hitters in the bottom of the sixth, leaving it just an out away from putting the 10-run rule into effect. That wasn’t meant to be. Spanish Springs top two hitters, Jake Bray and Tanner Oates, laced singles and Chase Kittilsen followed with a three-run homer.
“We definitely did not want to get 10-runned and embarrassed at the state tournament,” Kittilsen said. “I was just trying to get the next guy to the plate and see what we could string together.”
The three-run inning ended a skid of 11-straight scoreless innings for the Cougars. The Spanish Spring offense had not scored since putting up a two spot in the top of the first inning of Thursday’s first-round state tourney tilt against Rancho, a 3-2 Cougars loss.
“Part of that was seeing good pitching and part of that was not seeing the ball as well as we did during regionals last week," Kittilsen said. "We always score late in games. We needed to get it going earlier, but we don’t go down without a fight.”
Spanish Springs got its final run Friday in the bottom of the seventh. Tim Epker singled and came around to score after Clark doubled and Garek Tauchen lifted a sacrifice fly.
Green Valley pitcher Alec Hutt held the Spanish Springs bats in check most of the day. He worked six innings, facing just one hitter over the minimum through the first 5 2-3 innings. Hutt wrapped up his day with six strikeouts and no walks.
“We just didn’t have a good approach (at the plate) early in the game,” Hofmann said. “Then he got into a rhythm and we couldn’t get him out of it. He had a decent fastball and good off-speed stuff that he located really well.
“I don’t want to take anything away from him. We didn’t make adjustments at the plate so that may have been part of it, but he pitched well.”