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High school baseball: MVPs displayed great leadership, plenty of clutch performances

Published: Monday, Aug. 3 2015 1:57 p.m. MDT

Rylan Anderson Gunnison (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Rylan Anderson Gunnison (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Related: Mr. Baseball: Taylorsville's Dallas Carroll a true diamond warrior

Related: 2A All-State baseball teams

Related: 3A All-State baseball teams

Related: 4A All-State baseball teams

Related: 5A All-State baseball teams

Most Valuable Player — has a real nice ring to it, doesn't it?

And we've got four of them who each helped lead their respective Utah high school baseball teams to state championships this year.

As expected, though, that's not all they have in common.

Austin Ovard Snow Canyon (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Austin Ovard Snow Canyon (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Displayed tremendous leadership ability? Check.

Played well under pressure? Check.

Rose to the occasion when their team needs them most? Yep, you can definitely check that one off, too.

It's no wonder, then, that Riley Ottesen of American Fork, Lars Lofgren of Skyline, Austin Ovard of Snow Canyon and Rylan Anderson of Gunnison were selected as Deseret News MVPs in their respective 5A, 4A, 3A and 2A classifications this year.

5A

Riley Ottesen, American Fork

This medium-sized kid with a king-sized heart was a key performer in many ways in the Cavemen's quest for their first state baseball crown in 27 years.

Lars Lofgren Skyline (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Lars Lofgren Skyline (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

On the mound, he piled up a sparkling 9-1 record with a glittering 1.44 earned-run average. And at the plate, the junior pitcher/shortstop batted a robust .460 and knocked in 28 runs, including the game-winner in American Fork's 5-4 come-from-behind victory over Taylorsville in the 5A championship finale.

Ottesen also picked up the complete-game win that day when, after falling behind 4-0 after two innings, he shut out the Warriors on two hits and rest of the way.

"He means everything to us," American Fork coach Jarod Ingersoll said of Ottesen, who spent his first season at A.F. after transferring from Lone Peak. "He did everything for us. He's such a talented ballplayer with everything he can do — he can hit, run, pitch, play in the field. He's one of those guys that's a five-tool guy.

Riley Ottesen American Fork (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Riley Ottesen American Fork (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

"Where I was the most pleased with this year is how he was such an excellent teammate this year. Every time he got a lot of pub in the newspaper, he was always talking about his teammates — not himself. It's amazing that he would do that, and I think it shows what kind of kid and what kind of character you are. Guys want to play that much harder for him, and our guys responded to him."

Ingersoll pointed out that Ottesen definitely put in the time to improve his skills, and that he's a great listener and learner along with being a great teammate.

"He's worked hard to improve his strength in the weight room. He made a great effort in the weight room and it paid off for him," said Cavemen coach, whose team finished 25-6 overall. "He's not exceptionally tall or big, but he's strong for his size and he's quick.

"He bought into what our pitching coach had going on, telling him it was best to pound the zone and throw strikes. And he realized that all year long. He's got what you call electric stuff; he's got some pop on it and it kind of explodes on you."

Ottesen displayed a knack for hitting the ball particularly well whenever he was pitching that day, continually coming up with clutch plays that paved the way for the Cavemen to claim their first title since 1985.

"He definitely was really competitive all the time," Ingersoll said. "But when he was pitching, he seemed to flip that switch where was even more in the compete mode. And hey, he was pretty dang tough at the plate when wasn't pitching, too."

4A

Lars Lofgren, Skyline

Speaking of someone helping lead his team to a long-awaited state championship, how 'bout this guy?

Lofgren, a senior pitcher, went 6-1 with a stellar 1.11 ERA during the regular season, then won two more games in the 4A tournament to help the Eagles soar to the first state championship in baseball in the 50-year history of the Salt Lake City school.

"I could go with four of five guys as our MVP this year, but Lars was our No. 1 player throughout the year," said Skyline coach Erik Hansen, whose team went 23-7 overall. "He gave us a lot of confidence whenever he was on the mound. In eight of his nine starts, he didn't give up more than two runs in any of those starts. So we always knew we could win with him on the mound. We knew if we could get three or four runs with him pitching, we could win.

"He hit just under .300 for the year, but he really came on the last six or seven games of the season and hit well in the playoffs. He got hot down the stretch and, in our last game against Timpanogos, Lars led off the ninth inning with a single and came around and scored the winning run in the championship game.

"He's one of the most competitive guys we have. He doesn't ever back down from a challenge," Hansen said of Lofgren. "When we were in California, we played a team with big third baseman, a mammoth kid who played football. I told him to stay off-speed with this kid, but he threw his fastball right by him and struck that kid out four times. He had one of his better games down there, 14 strikeouts and an 8-2 win down. He loved to challenge hitters.

"He's definitely a competitor. He works really hard in the offseason, and he does all the little things that you want your players to do to get better."

3A

Austin Ovard, Snow Canyon

Much like Ottesen with American Fork, Ovard is a pitcher/shortstop and one of those slightly built guys who proves once again that big — and great — things often come in small packages.

Ovard's pitching numbers were truly outstanding — a 6.1 record with a 1.58 ERA, and he had 51 strikeouts compared to just eight walks. He limited opposing batters to a paltry .157 batting average and displayed his superb mental toughness on the final day of the 3A tournament. After dropping a tough 2-0 decision to Juan Diego that forced a second winner-take-all game between the same two teams, Ovard came on to pitch the last two innings in the finale and preserved the Warriors' 5-1 title-taking win.

At the plate, Ovard batted .417 with six doubles, six triples, two home runs and 34 runs RBIs this season.

"He did it for us all year long," said Snow Canyon coach Reed Secrist. "He's such a great kid. Every day, you knew what to expect from him; he did it every day, day in and day out. Every day I got the same effort out of him, and every day was good. We threw him when we really needed wins and we felt like he was our best guy on the mound, confidence-wise, because he knew what he could do and knew what he had would get it done."

Over Ovard's three-year prep career, he went a superb 17-2

"You look at him and he's a pretty skinny kid, but he generates real good bat speed, can move in the field and he's got a real good arm," Secrist said. "He even hits with some power, too. It was great to have him on my team, and it's gonna be bad to watch him leave."

Ovard will serve an LDS Church mission before beginning his collegiate baseball career at Salt Lake Community College.

"He has ability to play shortstop in college," Secrist said. "He has great range, a great arm, and he can play second base, too, if he was called on to do that.

"He's not really a vocal leader, he just leads by example. He's a great kid to all of his teammates, and they believed in him. One of the reasons I went to him in that second game (against Juan Diego) was the fact that I knew if I had to have anybody on the mound in that situation, it was him because of the confidence he has in himself and the way he handles pressure. He's got ice in his veins."

2A

Rylan Anderson, Gunnison

This pitcher/catcher combo also enjoyed a stellar senior season, both with his bat and his pitching arm.

In the pitching department, he posted a perfect 9-0 won-loss record with a microscopic 1.09 ERA and 92 strikeouts, and he also hit .488 to help the Bulldogs sweep the 2A state title and finish 24-2 overall.

His coach, Jared Anderson (no relation), relied heavily on his one-two punch of Rylan Anderson and Ty Bartholomew, and they delivered every day.

"Both of them were like bread and butter, one with the other, they just compliment each other really well," Coach Anderson said. "Rylan got hit in the face with a fastball last year, and he was in the ICU for a couple of days. But he battled back and he was just clutch for us. He did what he needed to do at all times. Those two were our captains and led our team on and off the field."

Rylan, who was Gunnison's student body president this year, also earned Academic All-State honors.

"He's just a great individual and a great baseball player," his coach said. "He batted leadoff, drove in runs, and the thing that's his biggest asset as a player is he was an All-Stater the last two years as a tremendous catcher. No teams ran on him at all. His love is probably catching, and he and Ty caught for each other.

"After we won the championship after being down 4-0 in the final game, Rylan said 'I knew we had it in us. Our team has come back all year. And I just threw my last ball to my best friend.' They've been best friends and buddies forever, and they put a heck of a season together. They put together a 24-2 season and never lost to a 2A team this year.

"He's just a great kid, one of those you hate to lose. He's a class act and I've been proud to coach him."

Email: rhollis@desnews.com

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