San Juan Bronco baseball team wins four straight but falls to #1 South Sevier in state semifinal, capping best season in 13 years
by Rhett Sifford
Before the San Juan High School baseball team headed to Provo for the bulk of the 2A Utah State tournament this past weekend, Bronco Head Coach Jens Nielson said, “Watch for these boys to do something special.”
They did indeed do something special, and they almost did something more than special. Facing elimination every game after their loss to Beaver in the second round San Juan needed five straight wins to play back into the first of two potential state championship games.
They won four straight over North Sevier, Gunnison Valley, #2 Enterprise, and #3 Duchesne. In the one-loss final they were trailing #1 South Sevier 12-2 heading into the top of the fourth inning with just two chances left to avoid being mercy-ruled.
The Broncos plated two runs in the fourth to eliminate the mercy rule, then exploded for six more in the top of the sixth to pull to within two runs. But the Rams finally answered with four runs in the bottom of the sixth to win 16-10.
It ended San Juan’s impressive state tournament run and their season in third place in Utah 2A baseball. It’s the Broncos’ best baseball season since they won the 2A state championship in 2010.
Every single game the Broncos played over the course of the past week was exciting, and much of the time they were showing their unconquerable spirit in comeback situations.
In the final home game of the season on Tuesday, May 9 in their one-loss second round matchup against North Sevier, the Wolves jumped out to a 5-0 lead in their first at-bat, chasing San Juan starter Parker Snyder.
But the Broncos bore down and went to work in their half of the first and tied the game on a three-run home run by Collin Baker. North Sevier rallied to retake the lead with two runs in the top of the second and one more in the third.
But San Juan went ahead for good with a six-run third inning that included a Talon Mendoza home run and back-to-back two-RBI singles from Garrett Young and Cooper Palmer.
Parker Snyder earned a little redemption in the bottom of the sixth when he smoked the Broncos’ third home run of the game over the left field fence to make the score 15-10.
North Sevier kept coming all game long and San Juan needed all 16 runs they scored to hold off the Wolves 16-13 for a big bounce-back win that set the tone for the rest of their state tourney run.
“We had a wake up call against Beaver and understood that adjustments had to be made,” Coach Nielson said. “[The players] didn’t hang their heads. They answered the call and made a decision to give their personal best.”
It showed in the win over North Sevier, which set the Broncos up for a trip to Provo for the remainder of the tournament Thursday through Saturday, May 11-13.
In the third round of play in the one-loss bracket on May 11 they came up against a tough Gunnison Valley squad that had been upset by Milford in the first round but beat Parowan in the one-loss first round to stay alive in the tournament.
It resulted in San Juan’s most exciting win of the weekend, although it wasn’t the way they wanted to get it done. The Broncos had built a 5-0 lead by the end of the third inning but saw it evaporate when the Bulldogs scored five in the top of the fourth to tie the game.
That’s where it stayed all the way into the bottom of the seventh. San Juan was batting with nobody out, Collin Baker on first, and Talon Mendoza at the plate. Mendoza smacked a hard fly ball that eluded the left fielder.
Baker rounded third and bore down on the plate at full speed as the Bulldogs worked to get the ball back in. Their throw was on the money but Baker’s hard slide into the catcher dislodged the ball and his second-effort dive to touch the plate scored the winning run 6-5.
San Juan folks were elated and Gunnison Valley folks were incensed. Regardless of the emotions in the moment, the Broncos were moving on to the one-loss quarterfinals.
On Saturday, May 12 San Juan was set for a date at Larry H. Miller Field with the number-two team entering the tournament, Enterprise. The Wolves had suffered an upset loss to eventual champion Kanab the previous evening.
Enterprise, who beat San Juan in an early-season neutral-site game 15-0, was no match for the Broncos, who were riding the momentum from their exciting win over Gunnison Valley.
With San Juan up 3-1 in the top of the second a Jerzy Nieves triple with the bases loaded blew the game open. They scored two more runs in the inning to increase their lead to 8-1 after two.
The Wolves scored two in the top of the third to inch closer, but that was it. San Juan held them scoreless for the remainder of the game, scoring two in the fourth inning and three in the fifth to close out a convincing 13-3 victory.
Just a few hours later the Broncos faced another matchup against a top-three team against #3 Duchesne in the one-loss semifinals. This one wasn’t as easy for San Juan, but they were up to the task.
Down 3-1 early they rallied to take a 4-3 lead in the top of the fourth, then added two in the fifth to make the score 6-3.
The Eagles answered with a run in the bottom of the fifth to pull to within two but San Juan kept them at arm’s length with a run of their own in the top of the sixth.
Duchesne plated another run in the bottom of the sixth but a five-run explosion by the Broncos in the top of the seventh put the game out of reach as they shocked the Eagles 12-7.
With the win San Juan advanced to the one-loss finals (state semifinals) where they faced the #1-seeded and defending state champion South Sevier Rams.
From the start of the game the Broncos had their hands full as their foes swatted the ball all over the diamond on the way to a 12-2 lead after three innings of play.
The next three innings were an excellent illustration of what San Juan baseball is all about though, as the Broncos once again battled their way back into the game, scoring two runs in the fourth and six in the sixth.
With the South Sevier lead trimmed to two runs, the Rams went back to work in the bottom of the sixth, plating four more runs to make the score 16-10. And that was the final when they held San Juan off the board in their final at bat.
Though it was the deepest the Broncos had been in a Utah baseball state tournament in 13 years, it was still a bitter pill to swallow after all the hard work they put in during the season and tournament.
Coach Nielson reflected on the game and the tournament after it was over. “Working your way through the losers bracket is tough,” he stated. “We felt good going into the game with Parker on the mound, but unfortunately they hit him well and we had to take him out.
“That did take a little air out of us but I was proud of the way [the team] bounced back. Just a few more things going our way and I felt we could have stolen that game,” he explained.
San Juan put up 84 hits in the tournament and averaged an impressive 10.2 runs per game. “It was a total team effort,” Nielson said. “The whole team stepped up and never quit fighting.”
Garrett Young and Cooper Palmer led the team in the postseason with 12 hits apiece. Jerzy Nieves and Jake Ivins were right behind with ten hits each. Nieves drove in 13 of the Broncos’ 72 runs.
Palmer had ten RBIs and Parker Snyder and Talon Mendoza had nine apiece. Snyder, Collin Baker, and Mendoza hit one postseason home run apiece, all in the home game against North Sevier.
Nieves and Baker hit two triples apiece in the tournament. Young and Branten Bethea hit one each. Nieves and Palmer both had four doubles apiece. Ian Johnson, Mendoza, and Jake Ivins hit two each.
On the season Nieves led the team with 35 hits. His 40 RBIs were the second-most in the state among all classifications. He batted .385 with eight doubles, six triples, and a homer.
Baker batted .343 with 34 hits, 31 RBIs, six doubles, two triples, and two home runs. Palmer had 32 hits on the year with 33 RBIs and a .390 average. He hit ten doubles, one triple, and two homers.
Mendoza led the team with a .395 batting average. He had 30 hits, 25 RBIs, nine doubles, one triple, and one home run. Snyder batted .388 with 31 hits, 25 RBIs, six doubles, one triple, and one homer.
Young had a .344 average with 31 hits, 24 RBI’s, four doubles, one triple, and two homers. The speedy senior’s 29 stolen bases were the fifth-most in the state this season.
Ian Johnson hit .365 for the Broncos this season with 23 hits, 21 RBIs, two doubles, and a homer. Bethea hit .351 with 27 hits and 17 RBIs. And Ivins was .286 with 20 hits and 15 RBIs.
Among San Juan pitchers Nieves had a pretty impressive 2.21 ERA with five wins and one loss in 13 appearances. Jaiten Knight and Ian Johnson were both 3-0 on the season. Knight had a 5.36 ERA and Johnson’s was 5.89.
Parker Snyder registered a couple wins for the Broncos. Jake Ivins, Collin Baker, and Jagger Nieves all had one win apiece.
San Juan finished the season with a 19-10 overall record. They won seven of their last nine games and entered the 2A state tournament as the #5 seed. Again, the third-place finish is their best since 2010 when they won the 2A state title.
I asked Coach Nielson several questions after the team returned home from their whirlwind trip to BYU.