Matt Gade, Deseret News
Panguitch, Utah, is a nice, quiet little town — think Mayberry from the old "Andy Griffith Show" — in the southwest portion of the Beehive State.
And while it may not be a thriving metropolis or anybody's idea of a destination resort, it certainly has its claim to fame on the Utah high school sports scene.
After all, while you'd likely take Interstate 15 south to get to Panguitch, the road 1A baseball teams must take on their way to the state championship seems to go through Panguitch just about every year.
But longtime Bobcats coach Clint Barney says that might not be the case this year.
"We're in the midst of a rebuilding-type year," he said of the three-time defending state champs. "We're not the best, we're not the worst, we're just kinda right in the middle.
"To be honest with about how this year's going, we'll be in a real fight to even get in the playoffs. Only three teams out of our region go to state. And traditionally we're the stronger region in 1A, so one good team's gonna be left home and we might be that fourth-place team this year.
"We have a roster full of underclassmen and only two seniors that start for us, but we're hoping to get that opportunity (to defend their title at the state tournament)."
The Panguitch program has won four of the last five 1A state titles and has been an absolute powerhouse for the past couple of years. The Bobcats piled up back-to-back undefeated seasons in 2012 and ’13 before finally having their 55-game winning streak stopped by Valley, which is off to a strong 9-2 start, in early August.
Coach Barney's brilliant one-two pitching punch of Chance Campbell and Tyce Barney graduated off last year's title team, though, and while sophomore Trey Barney and junior Dason Houston are both off to solid 4-1 starts on the mound for this year's team, currently 9-3 overall, the Bobcats don't possess the potent offensive punch they've had the past couple of years.
"I feel like we're still one of the better teams," Coach Barney said, "but Tabiona is a very strong team and they've probably got the best pitcher in the classification in Bailey Hogan. They're really tough, especially with him on the mound. He's tough to beat.
"Early on, I would've said Piute was the team to beat because they're loaded. They didn't lose anybody off their team we beat for the championship last year, but Wayne beat ’em 7-1 last week.
"Wayne (which, led by Brayden Robins and Landon Chappell, is 10-1 this year) has got that great tradition and has already beat both Tabiona and Piute," he said, noting that in his 12 previous years at Panguitch that Wayne has piled up its fair share of state titles, too. "Tabiona, Piute, Wayne, Valley, Green River and Panguitch could be in that (state title) discussion this year. But in my mind, Tabiona is the favorite. With that Hogan kid on the mound, they're going to be a team that's awfully tough to beat."
As for his own young, rebuilding team's chances, the Panguitch coach says that's one of the things that makes high school baseball such a fun challenge every year.
"All these guys are pretty fresh as far as varsity experience goes, and we've got to get some more consistency if we're gonna win," he said. "We lost some great leadership in key positions, and we're not nearly the offensive team we were from a year ago.
"How will we replace that great group of seniors who graduated? It's fun to see new kids come in and step up when they get the opportunity. We've still got the toughest part of our schedule ahead of us.
"It'll be a competitive year, and I don't think for a minute that we're the team to beat," Coach Barney said. "But we can play ourselves into a position to have as good a chance to win it as anybody else."