HIGHLAND — Tyler MacPherson was a sprinter on the Lone Peak High School track team the last three years. But, as a senior, he decided to play on the Knights’ baseball team with his best friends.
Turns out it was a great decision for him, and for his baseball buddies, too.
MacPherson smacked a mighty memorable home run — a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fourth inning — and Eli Norman launched a two-run bomb of his own an inning later to help Lone Peak rally from an early two-run deficit and defeat Layton, 8-4, in Wednesday’s second-round winner’s bracket matchup in the 5A state baseball tournament.
“It’s the first one of my life,” MacPherson said of his towering home run over the center-field fence that gave his team a 5-4 lead. “It’s my first year playing varsity baseball; I’ve run track the last three years.
“Coolest moment of my entire life. Well, maybe second-coolest — against Bingham, I had a touchdown pass from Dakota Hansen in the state championship game — but they’re close.”
His reason for switching sports in his senior year?
“All my boys, all these guys back here,” he said of his teammates. “I’ve always loved baseball, but for some reason I just wanted to run track. Having all my friends out here was a huge thing for me.
“It felt amazing off the bat. The wind helped it, but it still felt really good off the bat. It is awesome rounding the bases and seeing all my teammates so happy for me, and it was good to get a lead, too.
“It was an awesome time, what a feeling,” MacPherson added. “I hit it, and my first base coach was telling me to get on my horse and run fast, but I knew it (was out). The best feeling of the home run was seeing my teammates and getting the lead. It’s playoff time, so it’s time to win.”
With the victory, the Region 4 champion Knights (21-5) advance to an unbeaten-bracket battle against Bingham on Monday night at 7 p.m. at Kearns High.
“You watch Layton’s pitchers, they were crafty, stayed around the zone, and they were tough to hit,” Lone Peak coach Matt Bezzant said. “… That’s what’s made them tough all year and that’s why they have the record that they do.
“Our guys made some good adjustments and, fortunately, they found barrel with a couple of balls and I think it changed momentum in a bunch of situations where they had momentum at the time.
“We were fortunate enough to have a couple big hits right in a row,” Bezzant said. “Ty MacPherson came up huge for us, being a 9-hole hitter and clutching up with two strikes, and sometimes that’s the momentum you need in the ballgame. The thing you hope for as a coach is for them to fight back, and I felt like we did. In the dugout, it didn’t feel like there was any panic.”
Layton (20-7), the Region 1 runner-up, grabbed an early 3-1 lead with three runs in the third inning, thanks to a ground-rule double by Braden Esplin, a walk to Nick Hender, a sacrifice bunt by Braxton Gold, a two-run single to left by Jordan Harrop and Stockton Goddard’s RBI double of the center field fence.
Lone Peak pulled within 3-2 on Colton Easton’s solo home run in the bottom of the third, but the Lancers regained a two-run lead at 4-2 in the fourth when Carson Lomax singled, stole second, moved to third on a single by Esplin and scored on a groundout by Hender.
But in the bottom of the fourth, the Knights regained the lead. Payton Barney led off with a single, and Jacen Call followed with a single of his own. A sacrifice bunt by Tom Bateman moved the runners into scoring position, and Crew Robinson followed with an RBI groundout to make it 4-3.
Then MacPherson got his moment of glory with a high fly ball over the center-field fence to make it 5-4.
In the fifth, Seth Corry was hit by a pitch and, one out later, Norman crushed a two-run rocket blast over the left-field fence to make it 7-4.
“It felt good off the bat,” Norman said. “I got the pitch I wanted, 2-2 count, just looking for a pitch I could drive and I got it. They were good insurance runs for the end of the game. We felt better going into the last inning.
“Our power’s been really good this year. I think our offense is peaking at the right time and, as a team, we’re just connecting. Everybody’s playing good, everybody’s in it for each other.”
The Knights are determined not to let this opportunity pass by after falling in the 5A title game last year.
“It’s a huge motivation as a senior — just our last chance to win a state championship,” Norman said. “Coach (Bezzant) talks about it, how we need to finish, because that’s been our problem over the years for our school as a whole.”
Lone Peak added another insurance run in the sixth without the benefit of a base hit, helped by a pair of Layton throwing errors, and Lone Peak pitcher Payton Freeman finished what he started to pick up the complete-game victory.