High school baseball: Bingham, Spanish Fork, Snow Canyon and Emery top Deseret News preseason poll
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Springtime weather in Utah can be pretty unpredictable.
With seemingly equal parts of rain and shine, cool and warm, windy and calm — and quite often you get both ends of the spectrum in the same day — it's what we'd call Forrest-Gump-box-o'-chocolates kinda weather.
Yep, you just never know what you're gonna get.
But if there's one thing that is usually pretty predictable in Utah in the springtime, it's that certain high school teams — namely Bingham, Spanish Fork and Snow Canyon — are gonna be tough to beat on the baseball diamond.
Bingham, the defending 5A state champion, tops the Deseret News preseason poll among 5A teams, followed in order by Pleasant Grove, Cottonwood, American Fork and Jordan. In the 4A poll, perennial powerhouse Spanish Fork — with three straight state titles from 2009-11 and another one in '06 — leads the way, with defending 4A state champion Salem Hills second. Maple Mountain was ranked third, Timpanogos fourth and Mountain Crest fifth.
Two-time defending 3A state champion Snow Canyon tops the 3A rankings, followed in order by Desert Hills, Juan Diego, Dixie and Pine View.
And in 2A, defending state champion Emery sits in the top spot, with Parowan second in the poll, Beaver third, Grand fourth and Manti fifth.
Bingham graduated three first-team all-state players off last year's state championship squad that finished 22-7, including 5A MVP Chase Tavonatti.
But the Miners and coach Joey Sato, whose team also took the state title in 2011, are still being looked upon as the team to beat as the 2014 season gets underway.
Although you can probably rack it up in part to tradition and reputation, Coach Sato is still somewhat mystified by his team's high ranking this year.
"I honestly can't give you a reason for the ranking," he said. "Makes no sense to me. ... We have only one player who played at the varsity level last year. We have our smallest group of senior players we've had since 1999. So on paper, we shouldn't even be in the mix."
This year's team is led by senior infielder/pitcher Austin Florez, an honorable mention all-state selection last season.
"We are fortunate that we have great kids who attend Bingham who contribute to many successful programs, as witnessed by our success during the football season, girls volleyball season, drill team, basketball season, etc.," Sato said.
"It also manifests itself in other programs as witnessed by our most recent state championships in debate and in the academic decathlon this past weekend. Our other activity programs in music and drama are also outstanding.
"We have a great school culture of success that has been developed here over many years," he said. "And those old traditions carried over from the old school in the canyon don't hurt, either. So we feel so blessed in that regard."
Pleasant Grove, which sits second in the season-opening 5A poll, features junior pitcher/shortstop Easton Walker, who's already committed to play college baseball at BYU after earning second-team all-state honors last year.
Other top returnees for the Vikings include senior pitcher/outfielder Jade Smoot, senior pitcher Brandon Coombs, senior first baseman Brody Blackhurst, sophomore catcher Payton Henry, junior outfielders Zach Peterson and Chase Merrell, and junior infielder Ben Eldredge.
"We return seven players who all had major varsity experience," Pleasant Grove head coach Darrin Henry told the Deseret News. "We should have a very competitive team with a bright outlook. This team has several players with the ability to play at the next level. It will be fun to see this young team continue working to reach their potential.”
Cottonwood coach Jason Crawford likes his team's chances, too, thanks to a couple of second-team all-state selections, senior pitcher Hunter Smith and senior catcher Jake Atkinson, who return for the Colts along with seniors Carter Owens, Josh Shapiro, Martin Chagnovich, Jordan Martinez, Andrew Goodfellow, Dylan Cooley, Jeff Barton and Tevita Gerber.
"We are senior-loaded and making a small run last year gives us quite a bit of experience for this group," Crawford said. "We have good pitching with some depth, with good team speed."
American Fork, the 5A champ in 2012, returns senior pitcher/infielder Sean Hardman, who was a second-team all-state selection last season, along with honorable mention all-stater Emmett Green.
Jordan will again be led by senior catcher/pitcher Colton Shaver, a BYU signee and first-team all-state performer who posted a 6-1 record on the mound and hit .542 with nine home runs and eight doubles last year.
He'll be joined by honorable mention all-state selections Mason Krueger and Morgan Gomez, as well as Cale Hathaway, Christian Bailey and Drew Lisk.
"We are a senior-heavy team that should compete well against our competition this year," Jordan coach Chad Fife said. "Led by returning three-year all-state catcher Colton Shaver, we have an excellent chance at having a great season."
Also in the 5A mix this year will be Layton, last year's state tournament runner-up that won 20 games in 2013. The Lancers are led by senior pitcher/infielder Caleb Harrop, who earned second-team all-state honors last year, along with senior outfielder Quentin Marcelin, an honorable mention all-stater last season.
Veteran coach Robert Ferneau's ballclub will also feature senior infielder Frankie Aguilar, senior outfielders Rusty Wilbert and Josofat Chavez, and senior utility man Brady Jewell.
Back in the 4A ranks after spending the previous couple of seasons in the 3A classification, Spanish Fork is off to a terrific 5-0 start this season and has bludgeoned its first five opponents by a combined score of — get this — 78-1.
The Dons' veteran coach, Jim "Shoe" Nelson, likes what he sees.
"We have a lot of starters returning," he said, "and our pitching should be outstanding — hard throwers and good depth, five to six deep. Defense should be solid, and hitting should be good and possibly real good.
"We should be a typical Spanish Fork team," said Nelson, whose ballclub went 21-7 overall and won the Region 12 title with a 10-0 record last year. "We could be real good and should be right in the hunt."
Leading the way for the Dons this time around will be three honorable mention all-state selections from last season — senior shortstop/pitcher Hayes Hall, who hit .300 with 14 RBIs and is a solid player and slick infielder; senior first baseman Brock Nelson, who Coach Nelson calls a "solid hitter" and "tough out" that hit .330 with 17 RBIs last year; and senior pitcher/third baseman Maverick Buffo, whose game is as good as his name. On the mound, Buffo went 6-2 with a 2.42 ERA last year and has signed to play collegiately at BYU.
Salem Hills, which claimed the 4A crown and piled up a superb 27-3 record last season, lost 10 seniors off that stellar ballclub.
But Skyhawks coach Scott Haney says his squad has tremendous team speed, and the Skyhawks will be counting on senior pitcher Austin Hanks, senior outfielder Scott Lyman and senior catcher Matt Whiting to lead the charge this year, along with senior southpaw pitcher Khristian Sorensen, juniors Jesse Rowley, Easton Tallon and Lakota Centeno, and sophomores Tanner Hamblin and Cooper Smith.
A pair of newcomers, senior Gunnar Gustin and junior Porter Gustin, will add strength to Salem Hills' batting lineup and depth to the pitching rotation.
Maple Mountain, which went 21-8 last year and lost to Salem Hills in the 4A championship game, has a couple of returning players who received all-state recognition last season in third baseman Kade Poulsen, who was a second-team selection as a freshman, and junior Jake Mafi, who earned honorable mention honors.
Other top players for coach Gary Miner's young ballclub, which has just four seniors on its roster but also returns five starters, include Nik Mafi, Jerin Hall and Bryson VanTassell.
Timpanogos, which won 19 games last season and is coached by Kim Nelson, comes in at No. 4 in the 4A rankings.
Mountain Crest, with senior pitcher Ben Weese, already a two-time all-state selection and a second-teamer last year, is ranked No. 5.
The Mustangs have a senior-laden lineup with plenty of varsity experience and are also counting on big contributions from senior outfielder Nick Taylor (who was a second-team all-state pick last year), outfielder Luke Smith, catcher Jack Godfrey, shortstop Anthony Peterson, first baseman Spenser Coombs, third baseman Ty Hall and pitcher McKay Smith.
Also in the 4A mix will be coach Marce Wilson's Murray High ballclub, last year's Region 7 champ that went 20-5 overall and brings back second-team all-state pitcher Spencer Downs along with pitchers Preston Hannay and Rigby Butikofer, catcher Zach Collins and outfielder Logan Jones.
Snow Canyon has captured back-to-back 3A state titles, and the Warriors have a couple of second-team all-state selections returning in junior catcher Brady Sargent and senior outfielder/pitcher Clint Gates.
Coach Reed Secrist, whose team went 20-9 last year, is also expecting big things from senior outfielder/pitcher Tyler Wardell, junior second baseman/pitcher Jake Frei and junior shortstop/pitcher Isaac Rhea, a transfer from Logan.
Of course, the Warriors will miss last year's 3A MVP, Riley Gates, and first-team all-state performers like Chandler Day and Brogan Secrist.
"Our infield will be young but good," Coach Secrist said. "Our outfield is solid with two key players returning from the 2013 state championship team. Pitching will be the point of emphasis this year with losing Gates, Secrist and Day. We really didn't pitch any underclassmen.
"If we can throw strikes, our defense should be solid. Our offense will be good again with players that can hit up and down the lineup."
Desert Hills, which won the Region 9 title and went 21-7 overall last season, will be counting on senior pitcher/outfielder Dylan File, a second-team all-state performer, as well as Blake Betts, Baden Powell, Braiden Irvin and Evan Moss.
"We have solid returners back from a good team last year, with some good kids to plug in the holes," Thunder coach Jerry Beck said. "Overall, I'm optimistic that we can be in the hunt again this year if we can get a few breaks along the way."
Juan Diego, which always seems to be in the hunt, lost several strong seniors from last year's team but still comes in at No. 3 in the poll.
No. 4-ranked Dixie went 19-10 last year and has some strong players returning this season, including senior first baseman/pitcher Braxton Ipson, a first-team all-state selection who batted .410 and went 4-2 on the mound last year. He'll be joined by senior outfielder Tanner Webster, senior third baseman/pitcher Gavin Graff, and senior second baseman Chance Aplanalp in leading the way.
"We have a solid senior class and look to have some key contributions from a number of juniors," Flyers coach Danny Ipson said. "We are fairly deep in regards to our pitching staff and look to compete well in the extremely difficult Region 9."
Pine View won just seven games last season, but expects to be much-improved behind the play of sophomore Dakota Donovan, junior Hunter Hansen, and seniors Dylan Draper and Justice Santiago.
"We are still a young team, but will be very competitive this season," Dixie coach Mike Gargano said. "Time will tell our success. The team has grown immensely over the summer and fall seasons."
Park City, last year's Region 10 champ that won 18 games, returns a strong hitting lineup led by versatile standout Chandler Anderson, who hit .480 with 12 doubles and 15 stolen bases last season; catcher Chandler Barkdull, who batted .425 with eight doubles and 16 steals; and shortstop/catcher Blake Morin, who hit .350 last year.
Stansbury, last year's Region 11 champ that went 17-7 overall, returns senior pitcher Trent Griffin, senior shortstop Nick Mackay and senior catcher Alex Mackay for coach Ray Clinton's club, which will be strong defensively.
And then there's Canyon View, which has two returning first-team all-state players in junior pitcher Zach Brinkerhoff, who went 8-4 with a 2.50 ERA, and junior infielder Keaton Kringlon, who hit .442 with 23 runs scored, 11 doubles and three triples.
Emery, which went 19-6 and pounded past Parowan 15-9 in last year's 2A state title game, is led by junior shortstop Ridge Nielson, who hit .430 and earned first-team all-state honors; junior pitcher/third baseman Dillon Wilstead, another first-team all-state selection who piled up a perfect 8-0 record on the mound; and senior pitcher/first baseman Carson Healy, a second-team all-state performer for coach Steve Gordon.
Parowan, which also won 19 games for coach Brett Harrison last year, is led by senior first baseman Caleb Murphy, who hit .451 with 13 extra-base hits on his way to being named first-team all-state; senior catcher/pitcher Jake Topham, who hit .378 with nine extra-base hits and also won seven games on the mound; Tristan Adams and Kirk Harrison, who received all-state honorable mention. Beaver, which is ranked No. 3 in 2A after taking the Region 13 title and piling up a superb 20-2 mark last year, returns four starters off that ballclub, including pitcher Tilston Bradson, who went 8-0 and earned second-team all-state honors; catcher Jesse McMullin, who batted .380 as a junior and was also named second-team all-state; and left fielder Colby Limb, who batted .370 last season as a junior for coach Curt Heslington.
Fourth-ranked Grand, coming off a 17-7 season in 2013, features senior pitcher/outfieler Koi Cook, a first-team all-state selection who batted .455 with a .706 on-base percentage and four homers and nine doubles, while also posting a 3.88 ERA on the mound; and Adam Jenkinson, who garnered all-state honorable mention last year. And No. 5 Manti, which claimed the Region 16 crown and went 18-4 overall last year, will be counting on senior catcher Seth Jenkins, who earned second-team all-state honors, to lead the way again this season.
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