SALT LAKE CITY — The 2011 high school baseball season is in full swing, and intriguing storylines are already unfolding.
In Class 5A, a traditional powerhouse is reemerging as a state-title contender. Everyone is gunning for Spanish Fork in 4A, from St. George to Hyrum. Juan Diego is just as big a target in 3A with teams from locations all over the state such as Cedar City, Price and Garland wanting to unseat them. Class 2A is wide open and picking a state-title favorite is impossible.
The next couple of months will feature exciting games, league and state championship races, and of course, unpredictable weather. Here is a look at each classification before league play begins to heat up, while the spring weather hopefully does the same:
CLASS 5A: It was supposed to mark the end of Taylorsville's proud baseball dynasty when the Warriors stunningly went 7-14 and missed the state tournament last season.
But the Warriors have way too much pride for that. They look to be back among the state's powerhouses this season. They return seven starters from last year's team, and their entire roster enjoyed being a part of an American Legion state championship last summer.
Taylorsville has no shortage of motivation after missing the tournament last year.
"It was disappointing," Taylorsville first baseman Marc Reynolds said. "We all had high hopes. I think it kind of fueled us for this year. We don't want that to happen again. Being the first team in 16 years not to make playoffs for Taylorsville — that's like an insult to me and I'm sure it is to everyone else. We don't want that to happen again."
Second-year coach Jake Brown has a strong pitching staff to work with and a solid batting lineup. Reynolds anchors the offense, and he's complemented nicely by players such as Dallas Carroll, Dalton Carroll, Hayden Heugly and Bryson Heaton.
"We're happy with our team," Brown said. "We know we're an underdog, but we like our team and we'd like to go find out (where we stand) against anybody."
There is no shortage of state-title contenders in 5A, and no one team stands ahead of the pack as eventual champion Lone Peak did during the 2010 season. The Knights, ranked No. 1, have a real shot at repeating thanks to a deep pitching staff. They'll first have to get through a rough Region 4 that features unbeaten teams Jordan, American Fork and Brighton.
Bingham opened the season ranked No. 1, but lost the top spot after losing to Alta. The Miners, led by ace pitcher Mason Marshall, will still be a team to be dealt with, and are considered by many to be a slight favorite to win the 5A state title.
Riverton has built a quality program, and will battle Bingham and Taylorsville for the Region 3 title. Viewmont and Davis will slug it out for the Region 1 championship, and Cottonwood figures to be the favorite in Region 2.
CLASS 4A: Everyone knows reigning champion Spanish Fork is the team to beat in 4A. But one team the Dons — and the rest of 4A — have to keep an eye on is Snow Canyon.
The Warriors put a scare into Spanish Fork in the state tournament last season, and returns a quality pitching staff and a good batting lineup. Snow Canyon has one of the top players in the state in sophomore Riley Gates, who struck out 11 Dons in the tourney last year. Gates is already hitting 89 miles per hour on radar guns, and will only get better as the year goes on.
"It blows me away," said Snow Canyon coach Reed Secrist. "God gives some people an arm."
The Warriors have good talent around Gates, including his older brother Reggie. Eight different hurlers have already recorded a win for Snow Canyon this season, and Gates serves as the team's closer. The Warriors' offense is much improved. They scored 148 runs in 26 games last season. They've already scored 103 runs in 10 games this season.
"I like what I got," Secrist said. "We're been swinging it well. I think we stack up well against all of them (4A contenders)."
Spanish Fork is still the team to beat. After losing to Bingham a couple of weeks ago, the Dons won their next four games by a combined score of 59-4. Spanish Fork returns four all-state players from last year and boasts what is probably the deepest pitching staff in the state.
Mountain Crest usually starts slow while dealing with the cold weather in Cache Valley. But the Mustangs will be there in May, contending for the state title with a team that always gets better as the season progresses. Bonneville, with a potent offense, will battle Mountain Crest for the Region 5 championship.
Stansbury is favored in Region 6, but will face some competition from Woods Cross, East, Bountiful, Olympus and Highland. Region 7 looks to be balanced, but Lehi's experience and pitching staff will probably put the Pioneers over the top.
Spanish Fork will be challenged by Salem Hills and Springville in league play. This is the last season Region 9 will be a 3A/4A split, which is welcome news to the schools in that league. Snow Canyon will have to contend with solid programs Dixie and Pine View in the 4A portion of the region.
CLASS 3A: Canyon View almost pulled off a miracle in the state tournament last year. The Falcons lost their first tournament game, but rallied to win six straight contests to advance to the last day of tournament when it lost to champion Juan Diego.
The Falcons aren't content to be just a one-time, feel-good story. They have most of their key players back that made that stunning run, and now have their sights set on taking the next step.
"We're off to a good start," said Canyon View coach Jason Jacobsen. "The kids are coming to work every day just trying to be the best team we can be."
That's what it will take to dethrone Juan Diego in 3A. The Soaring Eagle have reloaded after winning the last two 3A championships, Juan Diego has a spectacular pair of middle infielders in shortstop Kody Davis and second baseman Yuto Kata. Their ace pitcher is Ryan Taylor.
No one, however, is conceding the state title to Juan Diego. Cedar, led by Brooks Orton, Treyson Park, Kole Halladay and Hunter Low, is one of the three tough 3A teams in Region 9 along with Canyon View and Desert Hills. Carbon, after an outstanding bounce-back season in 2010, has a potent lineup and will look to go farther in the state tournament this season.
Region 12 was an afterthought in 3A baseball last year, but Richfield and Emery showed that was a mistake in the state tournament. Those two teams are solid again, and they'll have to contend with a good Delta team for the league championship.
"I think it's going to be a good race," Jacobsen said. "Obviously Juan Diego is the clear favorites, but I think there's a handful of teams that can challenge them. Hopefully we're there, but you never know."
CLASS 2A: When coaches' preseason reports started filtering into the Deseret News, one unexpected team kept popping up in the rankings: North Sevier. The Wolves have had just two winning seasons in the last 10 years, but 2A people knew that North Sevier was experienced and talented and this could be their season to make some noise.
They were right.
The Wolves swept a doubleheader from reigning 2A champion San Juan on Friday, and look capable of contending for the state title.
"I know we're capable of being pretty good," said North Sevier coach Nolan Anderson. "The experience is there, but we got to perform."
No one is performing in 2A like North Sevier's Michael Hales. He has hit two home runs, three triples and two doubles in 10 games. Anderson said Hales is hitting the ball like no one he's ever seen before. Players such as Colton Piep, Kody Snow, Dillon Ortwein, Kade Larsen and Austin Piep are also contributing.
North Sevier is off to a great start in what is usually 2A's toughest region. The Wolves are done with San Juan, but the Broncos and Gunnison will stay in contention for the league championship. Gunnison is strong in all phases, and led offensively by Rylan Anderson. He has smacked eight doubles in 10 games.
Beaver is as good as any team in 2A, and the favorite to win Region 13. The Beavers routed North Sevier in their opener, and followed it up by beating Gunnison. Beaver returns six starters from last year's team that took fourth place in 2A. Kanab and Millard, which is led by sophomore Dakota Bullock, will be Beaver's toughest competition in league play.