AUSTIN — Pleasant Grove earned its third state baseball championship in school history.
The Hawks had several opportunities but it was a heads-up base running play that turned the tide in the Class 4A state final Thursday at UFCU Disch-Falk Stadium.
JM Long, who was named the MVP of Wednesday's semifinal game, scored on a fly out in foul territory, roughly 110 feet away from home plate, helping PG edge Rusk, 2-1, to claim the championship.
"Our coaches preach to our pitchers, 'just fill up the zone. Our guys will make plays behind you,' and they definitely did that today," Hawks coach Riley Fincher said. "I can't say enough about our shortstop, JM Long, and the plays he makes and his instincts on the field.
"Our freshman Brenton Clark didn't have an outstanding state tournament at the plate, but what he did defensively for us is huge. And our catcher Cason Head puts in so much hard work during the offseason and works so hard for us behind the plate. All these guys and this team, no one can ever take away from them this state championship; they earned it."
PG starting pitcher Nathan Hutcheson struggled with his control early, and the Hawk coaching staff quickly made a change with two runners on and a 3-1 count to Rusk's No. 5 batter.
Senior Coe Blain came on in relief and struck out the batter with just two pitches to leave runners stranded on the corners, ending the threat.
Blain needed 64 pitches to work 6 1-3 innings, earning him MVP honors. He allowed one hit, struck out four, walked three, hit one and gave up an unearned run.
PG turned three double plays behind him.
Will Dixon legged out an infield single with one down in the third for the Eagles, and a wild pitch sent him to second. A throwing error on a sacrifice bunt put two on, and a ground ball to second plated Dixon to give Rusk a 1-0 lead.
The Hawks left two on in the first and second innings but erased their deficit in the bottom of the third.
Clark reached on an error, and Long grounded a single past a diving second baseman into right field. A wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position.
Clark came in to tie the score on Alex Murphy's squeeze bunt, and Long scored on a pop up in foul territory to the first baseman.
"The pitch before (the foul out) was a foul ball that went in the stands," Fincher said. "I told JM to get ready to tag up because the first baseman was drifting. He knew that, and his baseball instincts had taken over. He never hesitated, and it took them off guard because it was only about 110 feet away in foul territory. That's the type of players we have; we want to attack the game. Who would've known that would turn out to be the winning run?"
Head led off the fourth with a liner to right but was stranded at third to end the inning. It was the eighth consecutive inning the Hawks had the leadoff batter reach base safely in the state tournament.
Tucker Anderson and Travler Couch had 2-out singles in the fifth, but the pair were stranded. Couch went 3 for 3 to lead the Hawks' 7-hit attack.
"I thought we swung the bats extremely well yesterday; I thought we swung them extremely well today," Fincher said. "My hat's off to Rusk because they were making plays. Brock Bearden had maybe three of the longest outs today, balls that leave most ballparks.
"And we end up scoring on a safety squeeze and a sacrifice fly in foul territory. It really shows what type of young men we have and what competitors they are; they're all in for each other."