In 23 years of coaching, Syracuse's Jeff Bearnson isn’t sure he’s seen a field as competitive as the group of teams in this year’s 5A baseball state tournament. From the top teams in the classification to those who barely snuck in finishing fourth in region play, there is a lot of quality, a lot of possibilities and no clear-cut favorite.
“Whoever wins the tournament this year will have earned it,” Bearnson said. “We did well in getting a No. 1 seed, but you look at a Kearns team we have to play in the first round and that’s a great team. You look at all the pairings and I’m sure most coaches feel the same going into their first-round matchup. There are a lot of great teams — more than I’ve seen for a while.”
First-round games will be held Tuesday.
Syracuse (9-8, 8-2) edged out Layton to secure the Region 1 championship in the tournament and feels good about its chances after a bit of a rocky start. The Titans played through a tough nonregion schedule against a lot of the top teams represented in this year’s tournament.
“We were in almost all of the games, but we ended up losing all of them,” Bearnson said. “I think during region play we figured out how to win a lot of those games that we lost early in the year — at least I hope we did. But we’ll find out soon enough on that. I’m very curious to see how my team plays.”
Most of 5A's heavyweights reside in ultra-competitive Region 4, where Riverton (17-8, 12-3) reigned supreme over powerhouses Bingham and defending 5A state champion American Fork during the regular season. The Silverwolves won a key series versus the Cavemen to close out their region schedule.
“We certainly have a lot of confidence heading into the tournament, but that can change quickly if you lose just one game,” said Riverton coach Jay Applegate. “I feel that we were in playoff mode for the last part of the season, so we just need to continue doing what we’ve done.”
Meanwhile, American Fork (15-7, 10-5) hopes to rebound from a disappointing end to the regular season.
“We have a lot of the guys back from the team that won it all last year, so that helps us,” said American Fork coach Jarod Ingersoll. “We’re not alone as the only experienced team and we’ll be the team to beat as defending champions, but that’s the way it is. I like our pitching and I feel we have a strong team that could repeat and win this thing, but there sure will be a lot of tough teams to get through.”
One of those tough teams is Region 3 champion Jordan (14-8, 11-4), which has the unenviable task of taking on the No. 4 seed from Region 4 (Pleasant Grove) in the first round.
“Playing the 4 seed from that region is like playing a No. 1 seed from other regions, so it’s going to be a very tough game,” said Jordan coach Ron Anderson. “We’ll have to make sure we’re competing in every inning and not get ahead of ourselves. We’ve had a very good year so far, but we’re going to have to be even better to come out on top of this tournament or to even beat a great team like Pleasant Grove.”
Rounding out the four No. 1 seeds is Region 2 champion Taylorsville (15-9, 12-3), which came within just one run of winning it all last season.
“There are about three-four teams I think you could peg as favorites, but I really feel this tournament is just about anyone’s to win," said Applegate. "We have a lot of great teams down here in our region, but up North you have teams like Davis, Syracuse, Cottonwood and a whole bunch of others. Every team will need to compete, but I really feel it’s going to come down to pitching — it always seems to in these tournaments.”
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