Last year Bear River and Spanish Fork were the clear favorites in the 3A softball playoffs.
However, even though they're still ranked as the state's top two teams, this season has proved there really is no clear favorite in Class 3A. That includes defending champion Bear River, an experienced squad led by the classification's two-time MVP, pitcher Jordan Theurer.
Despite the increased parity, three of the four region champions earned their league titles without a single loss. Top-ranked Spanish Fork, fourth-ranked Snow Canyon and third-ranked Juan Diego earned their region championships without losing a league game.
The one exception came in Region 11. In that league, Bear River lost to Stansbury in one of its first region games, but avenged that loss in the second round of games. The loss to the Bears was the only league loss for the Stallions, meaning the two squads shared the region title. The Stallions won the coin toss, which means they earned the No. 1 seed and will be in the same bracket as Snow Canyon.
Bear River, on the other hand, has a brutal path in the playoffs. The Bears face Pine View, a tough Region 9 No. 3 seed, and then could face third-ranked Juan Diego in the second round. If they managed to beat the Soaring Eagle, they could face Spanish Fork in the quarterfinals. Even for a team that's won five consecutive titles (and seven overall), that might be a tall order.
In fact, Spanish Fork coach Don Andrews, who lost to the Bears in last year's championship, said this year there are more teams with the ability to win it all.
"I think there are at least six teams that can probably win it," said Andrews. "Whether one of them is us or not, I hope it is. Our defense will be there, I'm pretty sure."
The top-ranked Dons open the tournament with Union on Saturday. They're led by pitcher Ashlee Gordon, pitcher Kelsey Christensen, shortstop McKinley Brinkerhoff, and senior outfielder Kenzie Packard.
The second-ranked Bears are led by Theurer (9-4), Bailee Trapp and Brenna Hinck. Beating Pine View will be a challenge as the Panthers played well in a tough Region 9 field.
Third-ranked Juan Diego opens the tournament with Carbon or Delta and is led by pitcher Maddie Davis (17-1). Kacie Freudenberger, Paige Castro, and Jaicibrooke Bishop make the Soaring Eagle tough to beat.
Fourth-ranked Snow Canyon opens the tournament with Tooele, and is led by pitcher Brytni Gurney (19-0). Mitzi Gates, Skylar Gates and McKenzee Langston lead a prolific Warrior offense.
Canyon View is ranked fifth and opens the tournament with Grantsville. This contest could be one of the best of the opening round, as both teams have the ability to play spoiler against any opponent. Canyon View is led by pitcher Josie Platt (11-6), while the Cowboys rely on four pitchers to lead their defense.
The 3A tournament begins at regional sites Saturday with losers playing a second game later in the day. After that, teams move to the Little Valley Fields in St. George for the remaining rounds of the tournament, beginning Thursday, May 16.
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