While the field for the 3A baseball tournament is deep-seated with several potential contenders vying for the ultimate prize, the consensus feeling is that three programs stand above the rest: Desert Hills, Spanish Fork and defending champion Snow Canyon.
Of the three, Desert Hills is currently the outsider. But, more than ever before, the Thunder is in position to join the Dons and Warriors, who have combined for nine state titles, as a championship-winning team in Class 3A.
“It’s something our kids have set a goal for and thought about all year long,” Desert Hills coach Jerry Beck said about capturing the first state championship in program history. “Those programs (Spanish Fork and Snow Canyon) are where we want to be. That’s the programs that we’re shooting to be like and we want to join that club.”
First pitches are scheduled to fly Saturday at region sites, with Desert Hills entering the tournament as the top-ranked team in 3A. The Thunder (17-5) surrendered a mere 72 runs this season, the fewest in the classification. Four of the team's five losses came courtesy of programs residing in Las Vegas, and the fifth was a one-run setback against 5A’s Layton in the preseason, when the Lancers scored three runs in the sixth inning.
“We know that when our team shows up we’re capable of beating anybody. Those losses have been good for us. It reminds us that we need to show up and focus,” Beck said. “Definitely knowing that we haven’t lost to a 3A team this year gives us some added confidence.”
Spanish Fork (16-5) has won nine consecutive outings after a three-game slide against California teams in the Hard 9 National Classic. The Dons, often considered the premier program in 3A, unload a lethal one-two punch on the pitching mound.
Cortlen Nielsen (6-1) has yet to lose against Utah completion and Conner Johnson’s (5-2) lone hiccup in state was against 5A’s Bingham. Throw top reliever Maverick Buffo’s 4-2 record in the pudding and the Dons’ rotation is awfully hard to get around.
“Whereas during the year you can get by with one or two (pitchers), in a tournament situation, especially if you’re fortunate enough to advance to next week, you need more than one or two,” Spanish Fork coach Jim Nelson said. “Pitching depth becomes very important especially if you fall in the losers bracket.”
Spanish Fork’s trio is joined by Snow Canyon’s tandem of Riley Gates, whose 4-4 record is deceiving to the naked eye, and Brogan Secrist (5-1). Desert Hills has seen six gunners record at least one win, highlighted by Dylan File and Baden Powell’s combined 10-1 mark.
Park City’s Mark Trevino and Payson’s Wyatt “Friday the 13th” Voorhees top 3A in wins, both with 8-1 records.
"Pitching is the name of this game. Usually if you pitch it the best you win,” Nelson said. “There’s some dominant pitchers in the tournament with the Gates kid from Snow Canyon and Desert Hills has a couple good arms. Generally the team that pitches it the best ends up winning it.”
Park City (16-7) led 3A in scoring and Stansbury (17-5) finished the regular season winners of 14 out of 16.
However, both Beck and Nelson noted the road goes through Snow Canyon, which won its third state championship in 2012 after a miraculous run that started with a play-in game after it forfeited games midseason.
“I would say Snow Canyon,“ Nelson said when asked who he believed was the favorite. “Snow Canyon is the defending champion, and until someone beats them they’re the defending champions.”
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