Tom Smart, Deseret News
Historically, baseball rewards teams that have consistency on the mound, and that trend hasn’t wavered in Class 4A this season. With the opening splash of first-round games in the Utah state 4A tournament getting underway Tuesday, three programs look to cash in with an ace — or two — in the hole.
Salem Hills (22-3, 13-1 in Region 8) perhaps enters with the strongest resume of the bunch. The duo of Colton Hill and Garrett McEwan has paved the way from the mound and the box. They each tallied 12 doubles and nine wins — both of which lead 4A. McEwan is a perfect 9-0, while Hill sports an almost-as-flashy 9-1 record. And behind Taylor Snyder's 34 runs and 11 home runs, the Skyhawks have led 4A in scoring this season.
“We got to keep hitting, keep pitching like we have, and get a little bit lucky to win a state tournament,” Salem Hills coach Scott Haney said. “The biggest thing is play like a team, (and) staying in the winners bracket is important for any team.”
Hill’s lone setback occurred in late April against Maple Mountain (17-6, 12-2 in Region 8) and Golden Eagles ace Arik Mack. The BYU-bound Mack (7-0) ultimately threw a no-hitter in the 2-1 win over the Skyhawks and has a career record of 19-4 with 17 straight wins.
However, potentially the hottest team in 4A is Murray (17-3, 13-2 in Region 7), which has won 12 consecutive games. The Spartans advanced deep into the tournament in 2012 behind pitcher Cam Howe and much of the same is expected this time around. Howe is a perfect 7-0 and has won 12 straight decisions on the dirt.
Along with Maple Mountain (70), Murray (73) is one of two teams to hold opponents to fewer than 80 runs this season.
Despite the luxury of strong pitching, the 14-inning-per-week maximum rule pitching rule makes it imperative for teams to stay out of the one-loss bracket. If one of the favored teams falls early, it essentially dries up the top two pitchers in the rotation.
“If you get down in the losers bracket you’re going to see who has the pitching depth,” Haney said.
Nonetheless, this year it’s anyone’s tournament for the claiming after Skyline — the defending champion — failed to qualify for postseason play.
“I was on a state championship team in high school and we would have been the last team they predicted to win. I think if a team gets on a roll and stays in the winners bracket then a lot of people have a shot,” Haney said. “I would not make a prediction of who the favorites are. I think people think we are just because we’ve had a pretty good record.
“If you could beat people on paper I would love that,” Haney continued. “Nobody is going to read that we did this or that and call us up and forfeit. We’ve got a target on our back and we need to protect it.”
Timpanogos — similar to last year when it climbed from the dungeons of a 4A play-in game to nearly capture the state championship in 10 innings — is heating up at the most opportune time. The Timberwolves have won six consecutive games by a combined 39 runs.
An interesting first-round matchup will be between top-seeded Logan (15-10) from Region 5 and fourth-seeded Mountain View (12-12) from Region 8. Excluding series against Salem Hills and Maple Mountain the Bruins have won six straight behind a pair of sluggers: Shaun Snow and Jayce Hill, who have combined for nine triples.
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