Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SPANISH FORK — Judging from the past couple of prep baseball seasons, the 1A state championship appears to be the personal property of Panguitch High until somebody else comes along and can wrestle the crown out of the Bobcats’ claws.
After all, Panguitch is not only the two-time defending 1A champion on the diamond, but the Bobcats could close out a second straight undefeated campaign by winning a third straight title this week. The single-elimination 1A state tourney opens Tuesday at the Spanish Fork Complex before moving to Utah Valley University for the semifinals and finals on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
To say that Panguitch is the odds-on favorite to take home the top 1A baseball prize again this year would be like saying the government shutdown has been a pain in everybody’s backside. The Region 20 champion Bobcats are not only 21-0 thus far this season, but they have outscored their opponents by a whopping average margin of around 13-2, piling up a season total of 270 runs while allowing just 54.
However, Panguitch coach Clint Barney isn’t taking anything for granted heading into Tuesday's first-round matchup with Tintic.
“I guess you could say we’re one of the teams to beat,” he said modestly. “We haven’t been beat yet this year, but we’ve had some close games. I think everybody wants the opportunity to beat the defending champion, so it puts a target on our back. That’s for sure. There are some other good teams in the tournament that maybe a lot of people don’t know about or a haven’t heard about. Because we’re the defending champs, people have probably heard at least a little bit about our program.
“Tabiona’s a very strong team, but they’ve flown under the radar this year. They’re in a region with only four teams, so maybe they haven’t played as many games as we have, but they’re a very good team. They played in some of the preseason tournaments we were at and they’re very tough. If we’re fortunate enough to get into the semifinals and face them, I expect that to be a very good game.
“Piute and Wayne are good teams, too,” Barney said. “The Piute-Green River matchup should be the best game of the quarterfinals. ... Wayne has probably been the team that has steadily progressed throughout the year; they’re really tough, and Piute’s really tough, too. I know it sounds cliche, but my concern right now is our next game on the schedule, and that’s Tintic.”
Panguitch, with has won three of the last four state titles, is led by its terrific senior pitching tandem of Chance Campbell and Tyce Barney. Campbell, a left-hander, brings an unbeaten 11-0 record into the state tournament, and Tyce Barney, a right-hander, is 8-0.
“Chance led us in almost every category this year, both offensively and defensively,” Coach Barney said. “He’s our ace, our No. 1 pitcher, and he also leads our team in home runs with eight.
“Tyce (the coach’s son who will start in Tuesday's tourney opener) has pitched well this year, too and — no disrespect to our opponents — I feel like we’re just as strong with him on the mound.
“We hope to have a good enough one-two punch that those two kids can get us through these next three games,” he said. “We feel pretty confident, but we know there’s some other good teams out there that can beat us. We’ve been challenged a lot more this year, and that’s a good thing. We’ve been in some close games and been battle-tested, and hopefully that’ll help us as we go through the tournament.”
Sophomore catcher Dason Houston “has been terrific in the leadoff position” for the Bobcats, and freshman first baseman Trey Barney has been very solid as well. Those two, along with Campbell and Tyce Barney, spearhead the Bobcats’ attack at the plate, though they’ve also gotten strong hitting performances through the lineup from Troy Bagy, Rowdy Josie and Kolton Owens.
“We’ve had several guys on our team who have come up with big hits this season,” said Clint Barney, who’s admittedly leary about the 1A tourney’s single-elimination format.
“You have that one error or that one bloop hit that can swing a baseball game,” he said. “It’s really unpredictable, so you can’t afford to have an off-day. There have been some years where that’s benefitted me, and there’s been some years where we’ve been real good and still lost.”
Region 17 champion Tabiona (14-1 overall) has been beat just once all season — 14-3 by Panguitch back in early August — and the Tigers have their own undefeated pitcher in Bailey Hogan, who has a spotless 8-0 mound mark and has also been one of the team’s top hitters, along with Justin Clyde, who has posted a 4-1 pitching record and has banged out 11 extra-base hits, including a team-leading four home runs. Jarret Lefler, Dusty Jones, Sheldon Giles and Reno Humphrey have also swung strong bats for Tabiona.
St. Joseph (14-5) is led by Nick Gruet, who has been the Jayhawks’ top pitcher, going 7-1, while also banging out at least a dozen base hits for the Region 18 champs.