POCATELLO — Nate Mortensen's approach paid off.
With a chance to win the game in the bottom of the seventh, Mortensen kept his plan simple: hit the ball to right field.
When he got his pitch — a 1-2 fastball on the outside corner — Mortensen pounced. He connected for a walk-off, two-run home run to right-center field to give the Gate City Grays a 13-11 win Saturday in game one of a doubleheader against the Smithfield Blue Sox at Halliwell Park.
“I was thinking that he was going to try and burn me with a fastball, so I was waiting for it,” Mortensen said. “I thought it was going to go over the (fielder's) head, but I didn't think it was going over the fence.
“Just stoked. Just excited, man.”
Mortensen's homer capped a rally that saw the Grays score 11 runs over the final four innings. Smithfield led 9-2 after three frames and 11-6 in the fifth.
The victory, which was in doubt for much of the game that spanned over three hours, secures the No. 2 seed for the Grays in next week's Northern Utah League playoffs.
“Just chipping away, man,” Mortensen said. “These guys just kept grinding, just kept grinding.”
Gate City (17-10-1, 15-8-1 NUL) was submerged in an early 5-2 hole that grew to 9-2 after the Blue Sox's four-run third inning. The Grays committed three errors in the third frame and eight for the game — a trend that had Grays manager Trent Seamons visibly angry in the later innings.
The Grays' only error-free frames were the first and fourth.
But Gate City's bats heated up in the fourth and continued through the end of the game. KC Qualls — who hit a walk-off single Monday against Logan — went 2 for 3 with a double, a triple and four RBIs. His two-run extra-base hits in the fourth and fifth innings Saturday cut Gate City's deficits to 9-6 and 11-9, respectively. Dawson Keller's RBI double in the sixth tied the score 11-all.
That set the stage for Mortensen, whose walk-off homer was a lifetime first.
“Thirty years and that is the first time,” Mortensen said.
Mortensen finished 2 for 2 with three walks and three RBIs.
Luke Stowers earned the win on the mound for the Grays. The left-handed reliever worked the final two innings, holding the Blue Sox scoreless and hitless, and escaped a first-and-third, one-out jam in the sixth.
“Stowers came in, and he came in big for us,” Mortensen said. “He put a couple of zeroes on there when we really needed it.”
The Grays and Blue Sox (19-10-1, 13-10-1 NUL) play a best-of-three series next week in the Northern Utah League playoffs. Gate City hosts the opener Wednesday, with game two Thursday in Smithfield. The if-necessary game three would be Friday at Halliwell Park.
The second game of Saturday's doubleheader ended in a 2-2 tie. Mortensen had two of the Grays' four hits, and Braden Palmer hit a solo home run in the fourth inning.
Former Highland High and College of Southern Idaho standout Mason Foltz made his Gate City pitching debut. The right-hander started on the mound and didn't allow an earned run on four hits with five strikeouts and no walks in four innings.
SMITHFIELD'S NIELSEN TAKEN TO HOSPITAL
Blue Sox third baseman Rhett Nielsen was transported to Portneuf Medical Center during Saturday's game after he received medical attention in Smithfield's dugout during the third inning.
Nielsen was surrounded by medical staff and his teammates in the third-base dugout until paramedics loaded him onto a stretcher and removed him from Halliwell Park. The game was paused for approximately 20 minutes while Nielsen was tended to. Grays co-owner Terry Fredrickson and others hurried to gather blankets and ice packs to bring to Nielsen's aid.
One inning earlier, Nielsen and Grays third baseman Nick Winters collided on a play at third base. Nielsen attempted to slide head first into the base, while Winters leaned into the base path to corral an incoming throw from Grays center fielder Tory Hansen. Winters and Nielsen collided, and Nielsen stayed down for several seconds after the play ended. It is unclear whether that play and Nielsen's medical emergency are related.
Before play resumed, the Grays and Blue Sox gathered in a circle in front of home plate while Smithfield shortstop Scott Madsen led them in prayer.
No update on Nielsen's status was immediately available after the game.
“It's sad. That guy's a good dude,” Mortensen said of Nielsen. “He's got a wife and two kids. … We're wishing the best for him, praying for him.”