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BYU baseball: Cougars sign All-State, All-Region players

By Ralph R. Zobell

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Dec. 2 2011 11:06 a.m. MST

PROVO — Pitchers from California, Arizona and Utah have inked letters of intent with BYU baseball, as well as an infielder from Virginia, during the November signing period.

Left-handers Connor Smith of Bakersfield, Calif., and Blake Brailsford locally from American Fork are joined by right-handers Brendon Erickson of Phoenix, Keaton Cenatiempo of Mesa, Ariz., and Hayden Nielsen of nearby Spanish Fork. Nielsen, the 4A MVP and two-time all-stater, has been described as “the best defensive player I've coached without a doubt,” in the 31-year career of his prep coach.

Erickson and Nielsen will be playing in the infield for the Cougars along with Nate Favero from Vienna, Va.

“I am pleased with this recruiting class,” said BYU coach Vance Law. “We look for each one of them to excel as they further their education and athletic careers. Each one of them is the kind of young man that we are excited to have represent BYU and keep building on the established winning tradition.”

Blake Brailsford, LHP, American Fork HS, American Fork, Utah

Had a 5-1 record last season with a 2.90 ERA and 41 strikeouts. … Academic all-region. … Second team all-region…played for 5A state championship. … Played for the Utah Marshalls.

“Blake keeps getting better year after year and we think he could have an immediate impact as a freshman,” said Law. “He is a very competitive, hard-working pitcher who comes from a solid high school program at American Fork. We are excited to have him choose BYU.”

Keaton Cenatiempo, RHP, 6-3, 175, Desert Ridge HS, Mesa, Ariz.

Was 4-1, 4.41 ERA, 30 strikeouts in 34 innings. … Second team all-region both as a pitcher and a punter in football.

"We are excited to add Keaton to our baseball program and believe he has a lot of potential to keep progressing,” said Law. “He is already throwing in the upper 80s and has a decent breaking ball that he can throw for strikes."

Brendon Erickson, infielder, RHP, 5-11, 180, Sandra O’Connor HS, Phoenix, Ariz

Honorable mention 5A All-Northwest Region. … Selected to Team Arizona and the Diamondbacks Scout Team. … A three-sport athlete with four letters in baseball, three in football and two in basketball. … Played on the Junior Sunbelt Team. ... Recruited by eight Division 1 schools. … Had a 2-0 record with a 3.36 ERA. … Batted .293 with a team-leading 19 RBIs.

“Brendon is a very good all around athlete, excelling in three sports in the Phoenix area and is a very competitive young man,” said Law. “He can play in the infield and has the ability to pitch some as well.”

Nate Favero, infielder, 6-4, 180, Madison HS, Vienna, Virginia

All-Liberty District. … Batted .429 with 17 RBI, five doubles, four triples, three homers. … Scored 15 runs and stole 12 bases in 12 attempts.

“Nate is just tapping into some of his potential,” said Law. “He will be a fine hitter and versatile athlete for our baseball team. He shows good power as a left-handed bat and has a consistent line drive swing. It will be fun to watch him get better throughout his career at BYU.”

Hayden Nielsen, infielder, RHP, 5-11, 165, Spanish Fork HS, Spanish Fork, Utah

4A MVP and two-time all-state, all-region. … Had 11-1 record, 2.11 ERA. … Batted .398, 16-16 in stolen bases. ... Quarterback in football, a point guard in basketball and a pitcher and shortstop in baseball.

"He's the best defensive player I've coached without a doubt, and I've coached 31 years," said Shoe Nelson, his high school coach.

“We are fortunate and excited to have Hayden join our program,” said Law. “He brings a lot of championship experience with him. Not only does he have great ability, he brings a tremendous work ethic and leadership with him from the championship teams he has played on at Spanish Fork. He has great baseball knowledge and feel for the game as we have watched him over the years.”

Connor Smith, LHP, 6-5, 170, Bakersfield HS, Bakersfield, Calif.

Last season posted a 4-3 record, 3 saves, 3.89 ERA, 61 strikeouts, 45 innings pitched. … Honorable mention all-Southwest Yosemite League. … Team captain. …Batted .317 as a first baseman…senior class president. ... Is an Eagle Scout.

“Connor is another great young man who is becoming well known in Southern California,” said Law. “He is a very good strike thrower and is really learning how to pitch with three quality pitches. Being left handed and with his height of 6-foot-6, we will look for him to fill out his lanky frame and develop into the great pitcher we think that he can be.”

Ralph R. Zobell has worked for BYU Athletic Media Relations in various capacities for over 30 years. You can view his bio at http://byucougars.com/staff/athletics/ralph-zobell or contact him at zobellr@gmail.com.

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