DENVER – Thanks, in part, to the annual St. George Marathon, most southern Utahns know a marathon lasts anywhere from two to six hours, depending on the skill level of the runners and the circumstances of the race. But how long does a marathon baseball game last?
The St. George Sentinels found out firsthand Saturday, surviving a five hour ordeal against Chico, Calif. It was a 13-inning, five-hour, 32-run slugfest at the West Regional, with the Sentinels coming away with an 18-14 victory. The game time was actually 4:24, but there was a 45-minute lightning delay as well.
“I can’t recall ever being involved in a game quite like that one,” said Sentinels head coach Shane Johanson. “It was two really good teams battling in one fantastic game. A long, long game and an emotional roller coaster.”
On Friday night, St. George fell by blowing a couple of big leads and then allowing the winning run to cross the plate in the bottom of the 11th against Nevada. A similar scenario played out Saturday evening, with the Sentinels building an 11-3 lead. It was 11-5 when the umpires spotted lightning in the area and the field was cleared in the fifth inning.
California seemed to use the lightning delay as a reboot. After giving up a 12th run to St. George, the Chico Nuts rallied for seven unanswered runs to tie the game. A two-run Jagun Leavitt (inside the park) homer in the top of the ninth put St. George back on top at 14-12, but Chico answered with a two-run double by Braden Del Carlo to force the extra innings.
Neither team scored for the next inning-and-a-half, but it looked as if the game was going to end with Chico putting together a rally in the bottom of the 11th. Mateo Martinez led off with a single and went to second on a sacrifice. Nick Horsley, St. George’s fifth pitcher of the game, then walked a man to put two on with just one out and the score tied at 14-14.
Then lightning struck in favor of the Sentinels, figuratively speaking. Chico batter Mark Taylor hit a rocket grounder toward second base. Sentinels second baseman Trey Allred flagged it down, tossed to Alec Flemetakis at short, who tagged the bag and relayed to first to turn a 4-6-3 double play and send the game into the 12th and beyond.
“There were a lot of big plays in this game, but that one was certainly one of the biggest,” Johanson said. “They had two on and just one out and we were praying for a ground ball. Their guy hit that sharp grounder to Trey and we were able to turn it, thank goodness.”
Neither team scored in the 12th, but the Sentinels finally seized control in the top of the 13th. Weston Sampson led off with a solo home run, making it 15-14. But St. George wasn’t finished. With two outs and one on, Allred singled to start a parade of four straight Sentinels to reach base. Jagun Leavitt was hit by a pitch. Payton Higgins followed with a two-run single and Horsley followed Higgins with another RBI hit to make it 18-14.
Horsley then got the California team to go down quietly in the bottom of the inning to end the game and spark an exhausted celebration for the Sentinels. Dawson Staheli made a tumbling catch to end the game, just as Leavitt had done an inning earlier to stop a Chico scoring threat.
“That home run by Weston was so big because it allowed us to finally break through,” Johanson said. “That circus catch by Dawson was huge, too, and Jagun Leavitt, man, I’ve said it before, he just has the heart of a champion. He made play after play and had some huge hits in the game as well.”
Allred had been in a hitting slump, but broke out of it with four hits Saturday. Leavitt and Higgins also had four hits and Horsley homered and had four RBIs. The Sentinels had 22 hits in the game, as did California.
St. George, 29-12, survived the elimination game, but will have to play Sunday at noon on very little rest. The Sentinels play the winner of Nevada and Texas at noon, and the winner of that game will play in the West Region championship game at approximately 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon at Denver’s Regency Field. The other five teams (Arizona, New Mexico, California and two from Colorado) have all been eliminated with two losses.
Note: If Nevada wins tonight and again at noon Sunday, the 3:30 p.m. game will be unnecessary.
Flemetakis is scheduled to start the first game for St. George on Sunday. As for a possible second game, “We aren’t sure where we are with the pitch count rule,” Johanson said. “We told the guys in the bus on the way to dinner that if they have an arm and are eligible, they might be pitching tomorrow and to be ready.”
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