Kina Wilde, Daily News
SALT LAKE CITY — Forget the impressive statistics, state championships and clutch plays.
Sure, the Deseret News' state baseball MVPs put up big numbers and contributed to their respective teams holding gold trophies at the end of the year. But what also set this year's MVPs apart from the rest of the candidates is that they played their hearts out and played the game the right way.
The Deseret News' state baseball MVPs were the total package. The 2011 award-winners are Bingham's Stefan Cantwell, Spanish Fork's Hayden Nielsen, Juan Diego's Kody Davis and Enterprise's Morgun Phelps.
Stefan Cantwell, Bingham
What a senior year it was for Cantwell, who helped the Miners to state championships in both football and baseball and was named the Deseret News' MVP in both sports. In baseball, he was part of a dominant pitching staff, played shortstop and was Bingham's best hitter.
As much success as Cantwell enjoyed in one year, it would almost be expected that he'd become full of himself. But that never happened, as Cantwell remained humble and was a great teammate at Bingham.
"He's just a leader and a great young man," Bingham coach Joey Sato said of Cantwell.
Cantwell, the Miners' quarterback who will continue his career on the gridiron at Dixie State, was an MVP in two sports because he had a knack for making clutch plays. In the Miners' 10-6 win over American Fork in the state championship baseball game, he was the team's starting pitcher and left the game in the fourth inning due to control problems.
But he turned the game's tide in the fifth inning with a two-run home run that made the Miners' deficit manageable at 6-5, sparking Bingham to what ultimately would be its 20th state baseball championship.
"He came up big in the state championship game," Sato said. "He had done things like that all year. Everyone expected it. They just kind of held their breath, waiting for it to happen."
Cantwell went 7-2 on the mound for the Miners. He had a 2.53 earned run average and struck out 71 batters in 532?3 innings. He threw two five-inning no hitters. At the plate, he blasted 13 home runs, batted .402 and drove in 37 runs.
Hayden Nielsen, Spanish Fork
Nielsen, a junior, plays three sports at Spanish Fork and is in leadership positions in each of them. He's the quarterback in football, a point guard in basketball and a pitcher and shortstop in baseball.
Playing those positions prepared Nielsen to come through when Spanish Fork needed him most — in the state tournament.
"The biggest thing about Hayden is he's such a competitor and he's an athlete," said Dons coach Jim "Shoe" Nelson. "He's not intimidated in any situation, at any time, in any place, in any sport."
That was a good thing for the Dons, who had to come through the one-loss bracket in the 4A tournament with their pitching at a premium. Nielsen threw a complete game in an 11-0 win over Salem Hills, a team the Dons struggled with during the last week of the regular season. On one day of rest, he threw a complete game in a 12-7 win over Snow Canyon to force a true championship game with the Warriors.
Nielsen's outing against Snow Canyon obviously wasn't a masterpiece, but he got the job done and saved the rest of the pitching staff some innings before the title game. He did it by throwing 140 pitches against the Warriors.