"I miss you, K.J.," said senior Jake Lindsey, tears flooding his face.
On a misty May day, the Snow Canyon Warriors saw K.J. Harrison, and K.J. Harrison saw them win their second consecutive Class 3A state championship at Utah Valley University. The Warriors won three games in seven hours, including two in a row against rival Desert Hills. The 7-1 win in Game 2 capped a season dedicated to a loved one lost.
Kreg "K.J." Harrison, a 16-year-old rising sophomore star, drowned last June in Supai Canyon on the west side of the Grand Canyon weeks after the Warriors defeated Juan Diego to win the 2012 title.
"I think we play best," junior Clint Gates said, "when our team is facing adversity."
Snow Canyon faced more than adversity entering Saturday. It faced talent, tests and a rival it had lost to in three straight games, most recently in Friday's 3A winners bracket final.
But the Warriors defeated Spanish Fork 5-2 in the losers bracket finale Saturday morning to earn a rematch with the Desert Hills Thunder, who hadn't lost a game to a 3A opponent all season.
"Because K.J. wasn't with us," Lindsey said, "we knew we'd have to play every game like it was our last."
Lindsey did. He had five RBIs in what could have been his last game in a Warrior uniform, including a two-run homer in Snow Canyon's 16-6 five-inning Game 1 rout of the Thunder.
The Warriors, previously confounded by the Thunder, cleared the rain clouds from the get-go and raked hit after hit while taking advantage of five Desert Hills errors.
"We were not going to have any letdowns," said senior Chandler Day, who had five hits in the two games against the Thunder.
The Warriors kept their word.
In Game 2 of the impromptu Region 9 3A title game series, Snow Canyon continued to do what it started against the Dons: base hit, run, take the lead and hold onto it.
Tyler Wardell drove in Gates and Day in the bottom of the first inning. Day doubled home Mason Smith in the bottom of the second, and the Warriors offense would put continuous pressure on the Desert Hills defense from there, scoring two more runs on errors or infield singles.
And there was Gates, a small yet stout lefty who handcuffed the Thunder offense inning after inning. He pitched into trouble and wiggled his way out. He finished it out, pitching seven dazzling innings with just one earned run in the 7-1 victory.
"We couldn't take him out," Snow Canyon coach Reed Secrist said.
He didn't. The icy touch previously hanging around the Warriors when they played the Thunder turned into fiery demeanor. When Gates induced a weak fly ball into center for the final out of the game, the players, as most do, piled near the pitching mound.
No. 6 was there, that navy blue jersey hanging alone in the dugout, but Secrist couldn't help but think what this season would have been like had K.J. Harrison been in the lineup each day.
"It'd be nice if he was standing here with us right now," Secrist said, "because he'd definitely been one of our guys this year and definitely would have contributed to this."
Jake Lindsey still couldn't contain the emotion. His wrists were taped with the "6" on each arm and his eyes were turning more red. He was with Harrison on the field celebrating euphoria at Kearns High School last year.
"We realized who we were playing for," Lindsey said. "K.J. was going to guide us through it."
This year was different. K.J. Harrison wasn't here, but he was, every step of the way.