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.
"He told me after the Salem Hills game, 'I don't want you to ask me whether or not my arm is OK. If you need me, I'm ready to go,' " Nelson said. "He didn't want to come out. That's just how he is. When they (the Warriors), scored four or five runs, he said, 'you're not taking me out.' "
Nielsen batted leadoff for the Dons and was the catalyst for them averaging nearly 13 runs in their final five state tournament games. He's just as important to the Dons as a shortstop, as he's committed a total of just six errors in two seasons in the field.
"That's a pretty amazing stat," Nelson said. "He's the best defensive shortstop I've coached, and I've coached 31 years."
Kody Davis, Juan Diego
Davis, now a two-time MVP award- winner, is the epitome of playing the game the right way and getting everything out of one's physical gifts. Davis, listed at 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, always got his uniform dirty and did all he could to help his team rack up victories.
Davis was a three-year starter for the Soaring Eagle and helped them to three straight state championships. He contributed to his team's success and earned individual accolades by staying composed and making plays.
"The way he plays the game and competes, you wouldn't know if he was up 4-0, down 4-0, ahead 10-0 or down 10-0," said Juan Diego coach Troy Davis, Kody's father. "He was never on too big of a high or too low of a low."
Davis consistently produced for the Soaring Eagle. As a senior, he batted .506, drove in 26 runs, hit four home runs and had 13 doubles. His on-base percentage was a ridiculous .747 and he wreaked havoc once he was on the basepaths, stealing 36 bases during the 2011 season.
Davis set the tone for an aggressive Juan Diego team, which stole 10 bases in its 13-2 win over Canyon View in the 3A championship game.
"When he's on first with either a walk or a single, we knew he'd be in scoring position," Troy Davis said.
Davis, who will play for the University of Utah next season, was spectacular on defense at shortstop. He made plays over the middle of the infield that few shortstops in the state could dream of making.
Morgun Phelps, Enterprise
The mere mention of Phelps' name brought tears to the eyes of Enterprise coach Kyle Bundy during the 2A state tournament. Phelps, a 5-foot-5, 130-pound pitcher and outfielder, is a gutsy little guy who threw until his arm nearly fell off in the state tournament.
"I've never seen a kid that tough," Bundy said.
The Wolves entered the final day of the tournament needing to beat rival Beaver twice to claim the state title. Phelps helped get Enterprise there by throwing six strong innings in a 9-4 victory. That win forced a true championship game.
Phelps was hurting almost throughout the six innings he threw. Bundy was going to take him out after five innings — until he looked at who Beaver had coming to the plate.
"I said, 'Morgun, I can't (make a pitching change). Can you go out and play?' " Bundy said. "And he says 'Yep.' "
Phelps picked up three pitching wins for Enterprise in the state tournament, beating North Sevier, San Juan and Beaver. He threw all of his allowed 14 innings in the last three days of the tourney. He led the Wolves with a total of eight pitching victories this season.4 comments on this story
Phelps, an emotional junior who frequently pounds his chest while pitching, also contributed with his bat, hitting .426 during the regular season. He went 7-for-9 and scored five runs in Enterprise's two wins over Beaver on the final day of the tournament. The Wolves won the second game, 15-4, to claim their first state title since 1997 and first in the 2A ranks.
"He's a fun guy to have around," Bundy said of Phelps. "He's the only one who could go in and shut out the top teams. He did it with his bat, also."