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Comeback 2.0 for Coach Brinkerhoff and the back-to-back state champion Cowboys

In a comeback for the ages and a little dew from the heavens, the Cowboys overcame a 9-1 deficit in the fifth inning in the 2A state baseball championship game last Saturday night to be crowned back-to-back state champs. When most of the fan base was mentally preparing for a second game, the boys were mentally preparing to win the first game. The state championship is a double elimination format, meaning the South Sevier Rams would have to beat the Cowboys twice, but Coach Craig Brinkerhoff and the boys had other plans.

Left to right, photos by Jeremy Houston:

  • The Cowboys hold up not just the number one, but the number two, to represent the incredible feat of winning back-to-back 2A state baseball champions, beating the South Sevier Rams 13-12 in dramatic fashion.

  • Head Coach Craig Brinkerhoff can’t hold back his excitement jumping into the arms of senior Lane Sims after the Cowboys overcame a 9-1 deficit in the fifth inning in the 2A state baseball championship game to be crowned back-to-back state champs.

  • The heartbreak of the Rams player walks off as the Cowboys doggie pile on Kale Glover after hitting a walk-off RBI to win the state championship.

  • Kale Glover throws his helmet in the air trying to escape the inevitable pile up of his teammates after hitting the game winning hit in the bottom of the seventh inning.

The coaches of the Cowboys are no strangers to walking the comeback trail. Back in 2009, all three coaches, head coach Craig Brinkerhoff and assistants Justin Orton and Bryce Hafen, were all playing for the Cowboys when they found themselves in a similar situation: down 10 runs in the fifth and on the verge of being ten-run ruled. Three outs away from a second game yet found their way back to win the championship. Similarly, but more dramatically, it’s why some are calling it “Comeback 2.0”, the boys were one strike away multiple times, yet found the mental strength within to battle to the very end.

“I’m so proud of our team playing hard all the time no matter what the score is, being up or down.” Coach Brinkerhoff said. “We play one way all the time, and they proved it in that final game.”

As defending champs, the Cowboys had a target on their back all season and it was a rough road to get back to the championship. Earning a first-round bye, the Cowboys faced the Milford Tigers in the second round, and handled them relatively easy to proceed after beating them 12-2. A major test came with the #4 ranked Beaver Beavers after a scoreless game in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Cowboys had runners on when Freshman Walker Baird singled up the middle to score the walk off run and advance 1-0. Kanab then found themselves down 3-0 against the Duchesne Eagles, until a powerful 6-running inning late in the game secured the Cowboys birth in the championship game to face off against the Rams in a rematch of last year’s title game.

“Going back-to-back as favorites is very tough.” Brinkerhoff said. “There are so many great teams through the state and each game matters. Each team ranked one through eight could have won it all this year. We focused on not being complacent from the beginning of the year since we won it last year, but always wanting more and not wanting to settle with just one.”

The Rams had a bumpier road to the championship, losing to #3 ranked Grand County early on, but then beating Enterprise, Beaver, Grand and Duchesne, to claw their way back to the final game. The Rams got on the board first, knocking in two runs, until Walker Baird singled and scoring Kale Glover to make it 2-1 going into the third inning. The Rams were able to manufacture two more runs, taking advantage of loading the bases multiple times. It was a pitching by committee type game, with Cottom, Ramsey, Kabonic, Perkins all getting some touches on the mound.

“Our pitching strategy was to win that game,” Brinkerhoff added. “We play every game to win, and we knew the rest of our guys had 110 pitches that day, even if we had to go to a second game. We still had pitching left, and I was proud of our guys who came in, in tough spots and held them to limited runs to keep us in it.” While the Rams continued to add runs to the scoreboard, it was harder for the Cowboys to salvage any until the fifth inning when it was 9-1, and hope was fading, at least in the stands.

The Cowboys caught a spark in the fifth after a hit from Brogun Virostko and an RBI single from Brady Ramsey. Senior Maddix Baird crushed one up the middle to score two more runs and cut the lead to 9-5. The Rams were able to add more runs in the sixth, when they crushed a home run, and added another run to make it 12-5. Virostko added an RBI single, then Senior Jaxon Riddle had an RBI flyout to right field to make it 12-8. Another big at bat by Senior Lane Sims scored two after a shot down the third base line added two more runs to make it 12-10.

“We had to fight our way back and with our backs against the wall a couple times with two strikes when our seniors came up clutch for us, like Sims, Riddle and Baird,” Brinkerhoff said.

Down two, with two outs and two strikes with runners on Maddix Baird hit a bloop single over second base that fell between two Ram fielders, scoring two runs and finally tying it up. With a 12-12 score, it was time for the Iceman Kale Glover to do what anyone with ice running through their veins would do - deliver, just like he has done in the past! With two outs still looming, the potential for extra innings on the horizon and down to the last strike, Glover would have none of it. Crushing the next pitch down the third base line, fair or foul? Fair or foul? The ball landed fair, just inches inside the foul line, allowing the go-ahead run to walk in. Pandemonium ensued and Glover wouldn’t make it to second base because being mauled by his team. The Cowboys walked off the field as the comeback 2.0 back-to-back state champions.

When asked how it felt to hit the game winning hit, Glover added, “It’s an unbelievable feeling to have a hit like that, and one I hope to never forget. I was lucky enough to be in that position because of my teammates and I owe it to them to get it done. The whole inning it just felt right and you could feel the comeback rising, so yes I had a good feeling when the ball came off the bat.”

“When Kale hit that ball, I knew he hit it on the barrel,” Brinkerhoff added, “and all year long when he has barreled it up, it has unfortunately gone right to a fielder. Off the bat I knew it was going to be close, as I watched it go down the line and drop down only a few inches fair. After that felt like I was in a movie; we completed the comeback, and we finished the job.”

The Cowboys had done it, winning 13-12, eliminating the Rams for the second time in two years. Senior Maddix Baird led the barrage of hits with three hits and four RBI’s. It was a win by committee with the whole team adding critical plays in critical moments, with Bone, W. Baird, Kabonic, B. Virostko, Ramsay and Lane Sims all adding two hits apiece for the Cowboys.

When asked about the game and season, Brinkerhoff concluded by saying, “We knew we had it in us this year to win it and we had been there before, but nothing is giving to us, it’s earned - and these kids earned it. [I’m] so proud of our seniors and the blueprint they have left for the rest of the team for future years. They have bought into the standards we as coaches have set and they implemented them through the year. I’m so proud of our team and their resilience they have through the whole year. Proud of the underclassmen stepping up and being ready to play when their # was called upon. These are some tough kids and they deserved it!

“I’m proud of Kale to get up in that situation with confidence and always being ready. Every day through the year he gave his best, all the way through the last pitch. So proud of our guys to have moments like this to cherish through their lives. I thank Bryce Hafen and Justin Orton for coaching with me these past couple years. The investment they put into the team is never unnoticed.”

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