Jordan High's baseball team has faced almost all of the top 5A teams in the state this season, so the top-ranked Beetdiggers' head coach, Chad Fife, knows how tough it's going to be to win the 2014 state championship.
"We've played just about everybody," he said in sizing up the talent-laden field for this year's 5A state tournament, which gets underway Tuesday. "I like Pleasant Grove a lot; American Fork is strong, and Copper Hills impressed me a lot. Taylorsville and Cottonwood are both real good, too.
"We played all of the top teams except Layton either in the preseason or during our region play, so I hope that has toughened us up. The only one of the top teams we haven't played is Layton, but they've had a great season, too, so it looks like (the championship chase) is wide open."
One guy who will play a big part in the Beetdiggers' title hopes is senior catcher/pitcher Colton Shaver, who is probably the best prep baseball player in the state.
Not only is he 5-0 on the mound but, at the plate, Shaver has batted an incredible .514 this season with 10 home runs, 13 doubles and 32 runs batted in.
"Yeah, he's pretty good," Fife deadpanned regarding Shaver.
The ’Diggers have more outstanding pitchers in senior left-handers Morgan Gomez (6-2) and Jacob Dirkson (6-3), so those two strong arms along with Shaver's give Jordan a trio of stellar starters who can prove invaluable come state tourney time.
Add the solid hitting they get from guys like Mason Krueger (batting .427 with 21 RBIs), Cale Hathaway (.355 with three homers and 23 RBIs), sophomore Drew Lisk (.386 with 21 RBIs) and Mason Hayes (.333 with two homers and 16 runs batted in) and it's mighty tough to "beet" these ’Diggers.
Region 3 champion Jordan (20-5) started the season with a sparkling 16-2 record before losing three of its last seven games. But the Beetdiggers clinched the league crown by beating Copper Hills in their final two regular-season showdowns — a couple of dandy one-run duels, 1-0 and 2-1 — and go into Tuesday's state tournament opener looking like the team to beat.
"Our pitching's been good all year and was amazing in that last series with Copper Hills," said Fife. "And we've hit the heck out of the baseball, scoring nine or 10 runs a game, until that last week of the season. Copper Hills pitched it real well against us and they're a good team. I'd feel better about things if we could start hitting a little bit better again this week.
"Whoever gets hot is gonna make some noise in the state tournament. We haven't hit as well the last couple of weeks, so hopefully we'll get the bats back alive again.
"I'm liking it so far," said Fife, who's in his first year as the Beetdiggers' head coach but was an assistant coach the last time they took the state title in 2007, capping a run of three straight trips to the state finals. "It's been a fantastic year for us. Hopefully, that last series with Copper Hills brought ’em back down to earth a little bit. We've got 10 seniors, so we're a little senior heavy. But having kids who've got some state tournament experience is good for sure."
Jordan, however, is definitely not the only strong team with its sights set on this year's 5A baseball state title.
Region 4 champion Pleasant Grove (17-8) won 15 of 17 games before dropping its last two league games to American Fork. The Vikings have a high-scoring attack that has bludgeoned opponents several times this season, winning by scores like 12-2 (twice), 15-7, 11-1, 13-6, 16-1 and 17-4.
Easton Walker is Pleasant Grove's top pitcher, and the Vikings get solid hitting from Brody Blackhurst, Jade Smoot, Zach Peterson, Chase Merrell and Payton Henry, who leads the team in home runs.
Region 2 co-champion Taylorsville (17-8) won 13 of its last 15 games on its way to taking a share of the league title.
The Warriors have a pair of aces on the mound in Cole Fivecoat (6-2) and Jordon West (5-2), and Austin Buttenob has gone 3-1 on the mound, while their batting attack gets plenty of production from Braden Debenedictis, Kenneth Atwood, Jake Davison and Miguel Othon.
Region 1 champ Layton (20-5) won 17 straight games before dropping its league finale to Davis. The Lancers, who lost in last year's 5A finals to Bingham, scored 10 or more runs in nine of their last 10 games during that 17-game winning streak.
Layton has a pair of pitching aces of its own in Caleb Harrop (7-1) and Jayden Berensen (6-0), and Pete Nielsen (4-1) gives them a third proven pitcher. Quentin Marcelin, Brady Jewell, Edgar Aguilar, Frankie Aguilar, Josafat Chavez, Braden Collingwood and Preston Day pace the Lancers at the plate.
Region 4 runner-up American Fork (18-7), which captured the 2012 state championship, won 10 of its last 14 games, including its last two against league champion Pleasant Grove.
The top pitcher for the Cavemen is Craig Brailsford (6-2), while appropriately named Austin Pitcher is 3-0. Koy Dibb, Andrew Bartholomew, Logan Flinders, Emmett Green and Pitcher pace the American Fork offense.
Cottonwood (19-6), which enters the state tournament riding a 10-game winning streak and has won 16 of its last 18 overall, piled up 10 or more runs in five of its last six games.
The Colts have gotten strong pitching performances from Tevita Gerber (6-2), Hunter Smith (3-0) and Carter Owens (3-1), while their offense is fueled by the strong hitting of Nate Gardner, Dylan Cooley, Andrew Goodfellow, Jake Shapiro and Jake Atkinson.1 comment on this story
Region 3 runner-up Copper Hills (16-9) won eight straight before losing its last two league games to Jordan, both by one run — 1-0 and 2-1. The Grizzlies have got a couple of outstanding pitchers in Caden Hardcastle (6-1) and Tanner Anderson (5-2), while Jake Boyd, Cody Brumley, Cody Barkdull and Trevor Hoffman have paced Copper Hills' production at the plate.
Defending 5A state champion Bingham (16-9) brings some momentum into this year's tournament, having won four of its last five games. And Region 1 runner-up Davis (15-9) has won four straight and nine of its last 11.