Syracuse baseball carrying Region 1 torch in 6A state tournament after up-and-down regular season
OREM — Syracuse High sophomore baseball pitcher Dom Johnatakis entered Monday’s final-eight game of the 6A state tournament against Riverton having pitched 21 innings this season with 56 runs allowed, 31 of them earned.
No. 6 Riverton came in batting .371 as a team with 59 doubles and 12 homers in 27 preceding games.
This postseason, the on-paper matchup apparently means nothing.
Johnatakis continued the No. 14 Titans’ underdog postseason run, hurling 5 2/3 innings and allowing three runs with seven strikeouts in a 7-6 upset win over Riverton late Monday night at Utah Valley University.
“After the first inning, I knew it was going to be a good game. The adrenaline just kind of gave me something I guess,” Johnatakis said after his best game of the year. “I think just the pressure of this game made me throw strikes, I guess.”
He exited with a 6-3 lead in the sixth inning. With a 7-3 lead, Riverton scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh and loaded the bases.
Easton Hicks, a .407 batter, came up with the chance to secure a Silverwolves comeback.
Syracuse sophomore relief pitcher Calder Millard struck Hicks out, setting off a wild infield celebration two days after the Titans did the same thing following their upset series win at No. 3 Fremont.
“It’s huge. I’ve kind of had some struggles earlier this season, but this game was huge. Won it for the seniors,” Johnatakis said.
After an up-and-down regular season where it finished fourth in Region 1, Syracuse (16-14) is once again carrying the torch as the only region team left in the tournament.
Four years ago, Syracuse was the No. 4 team from Region 1 in the old playoff system — and was only one game ahead of fifth place — and also was the region’s last team standing after beating region champions Copper Hills and Fremont in a run to the state semifinals, losing only to the eventual state champion and runner-up.
This year, the path has taken Syracuse to face No. 7 American Fork on Tuesday, looking for another upset win.
“These kids, man. They’re not backing down from anybody, they’re just not,” Syracuse coach Trevor Thomas said. “They’re playing well. I’m ecstatic.”
Monday’s win continued the Titans’ trend of good pitching and defense this postseason. The defense has committed two errors in the last three games, and eight total errors in six playoff games.
Jake Hopkins pitched a gem last week to force a third game in the second-round series win at Fremont before Jaden Keblis pitched another gem to win the series and get the Titans to UVU. That’s where Johnatakis delivered under the lights against the defending state champions.
“We’re all juniors or sophomores, a couple seniors, but I think it’s all clicking. I always tell our kids, you want to get hot at the right time, and we’re getting hot,” Thomas said. “I just tell them if you get (to the later rounds of the tournament), anything can happen.”
Syracuse had runners at second and third base in the top of the second inning with one out, but Kyson Curtis lined into a double play at shortstop and Riverton took a 2-0 lead in the bottom half with a two-run single.
The Titans scored in the third from a two-runners situation on Tag Hamblin’s sacrifice fly. With runners on first and third in the sixth, Easton Hamblin hit a pinch-hit, RBI single to tie the game 2-2.
Dawson Raymond reached on a bunt and a two-base Riverton throwing error that scored a run and made it 3-2.
The very next pitch, Austin Burton smacked a three-run home run to left field, his first homer of the season, and demonstratively celebrated with his teammates at home plate, and in the direction of the Riverton dugout.
After Johnatakis exited in the sixth, Andrew Sprague struck out Hicks on three pitches to end the inning. Dax Raymond got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, making it 7-3 Syracuse in the top of the seventh.
Riverton nearly won in the bottom half, scoring three runs and loading the bases. The Titans held their nerve.
The game started an hour later than scheduled, featured a stiff breeze blowing in from the outfield, steady rain for the first few innings and had a hotly disputed call.
In the top of the fifth inning, Syracuse thought it had a two-out walk but there was an apparent misunderstanding between the Titans and the home plate umpire, who didn’t award the fourth ball.
The Titans struck out to end the inning, but Thomas pleaded his case afterward with the umpire, who conferenced multiple times with the field judges and UHSAA staff before resuming play as normal with Riverton batting in the bottom of the fifth and no walk awarded.
The next inning, Syracuse’s bats got hot, helping ensure the Tuesday date with American Fork and at least one more game in the tournament on Wednesday.
Connect with reporter Patrick Carr via email at email@example.com, Twitter @patrickcarr_ and Instagram @standardexaminersports.