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High school baseball: State MVPs played biggest when it mattered most

Published: Friday, July 31 2015 9:34 p.m. MDT

Easton Walker, Pleasant Grove (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Easton Walker, Pleasant Grove (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

It’s not just one thing that makes a true MVP but a collective of certain skills that separates the very best from the rest of the pack. In 2014 the four prep classifications showcased particular players who put forth big numbers, proved clutch in big moments and provided key leadership aspects their respective teams rallied around.

The MVPs for 2014 include Pleasant Grove’s Easton Walker (5A), Bountiful’s Ryan Curtis (4A), Grantsville’s Wyatt Barrus (3A) and Emery’s Ridge Nelson (2A).

All four helped lead their teams to deep runs in their respective state tournaments with three of the four helping secure state titles. All four were at their best when the moment was biggest as true MVPs often are.

5A MVP Easton Walker

Emery's Ridge Nielson throws the ball during the 2A High School Baseball Championship game at the Brent Brown Ballpark Tuesday, May 13, 2014 in Orem. (Hugh Carey, Deseret News) Emery's Ridge Nielson throws the ball during the 2A High School Baseball Championship game at the Brent Brown Ballpark Tuesday, May 13, 2014 in Orem. (Hugh Carey, Deseret News)

Baseball runs deep in Walker’s family and it certainly showed this season considering his dominant performance from both the mound and the plate. Walker hit lead-off for Pleasant Grove, the 5A runner-up, and tallied a stellar .424 batting average, but perhaps did his best work from the mound compiling a 9-0 record and 0.86 ERA.

“When he took the mound this year (the) guys just knew we were going to win,” said Pleasant Grove Coach Darrin Henry. “He was so consistent with his approach every week and in no matter what situation we were in. He’s someone who understands the game very well and never gets rattled because of it. His approach is always the same, and I think a lot of that is due to being surrounded by family members who were also top baseball players.”

Indeed Walker had plenty to show him the way growing up from Braden, who went on to play for UNLV, and Devin, who played for Utah.

Grantsville's Wyatt Barrus, left, taps Desert Hill's Brayson Hardsman in the face during the 3A High School Baseball State Championship at Brent Brown Ballpark Saturday, May 17, 2014 in Orem. (Hugh Carey, Deseret News) Grantsville's Wyatt Barrus, left, taps Desert Hill's Brayson Hardsman in the face during the 3A High School Baseball State Championship at Brent Brown Ballpark Saturday, May 17, 2014 in Orem. (Hugh Carey, Deseret News)

Easton’s consistent approach in all situations perhaps benefited his team most after a shocking first-round loss to Viewmont in the state tournament. Instead of panicking, the Vikings rebounded and put together seven straight wins before falling 4-3 to Jordan in the final game.

“I don’t think we make that run without Easton. In fact, I know we don’t,” Henry said. “Having a player like that leading the team and coming up big time and again in big spots, you just can’t say enough about him.”

Easton made three starts in a very short timeframe during his team’s seven straight wins in the tournament and always came up big.

“He’s a very hard worker and just seems to know what needs to be done in every situation,” Henry said. “He’s been starting for me since he was a freshman and he’s just a junior so I get him back next year. I’m sure he’ll be that much better next season, so I’m excited about that.”

Emery's Ridge Nielson throws the ball during the 2A High School Baseball Championship game at the Brent Brown Ballpark Tuesday, May 13, 2014 in Orem. (Hugh Carey, Deseret News) Emery's Ridge Nielson throws the ball during the 2A High School Baseball Championship game at the Brent Brown Ballpark Tuesday, May 13, 2014 in Orem. (Hugh Carey, Deseret News)

4A MVP Ryan Curtis

Don’t let Curtis’ size fool you. The kid can pack a wallop and did so from the time his coach Clark Stringfellow made a key switch early in season to help set off Bountiful’s remarkable run to a state championship.

The 5-foot-9, three-sport athlete started 2014 hitting leadoff until it donned on Stringfellow to switch the order.

“He just wasn’t a leadoff hitter and wasn’t doing what we needed him to do at that spot,” Stringfellow said. “He was hitting it hard and we quickly learned that he’s not a leadoff guy but an RBI guy and probably one of the best power hitters in the state if not the best.”

Curtis finished 2014 with a .367 average, four home runs and 23 RBIs, and like most MVPs, did his best work during his team’s championship run.

Grantsville's Wyatt Barrus, left, taps Desert Hill's Brayson Hardsman in the face during the 3A High School Baseball State Championship at Brent Brown Ballpark Saturday, May 17, 2014 in Orem. (Hugh Carey, Deseret News) Grantsville's Wyatt Barrus, left, taps Desert Hill's Brayson Hardsman in the face during the 3A High School Baseball State Championship at Brent Brown Ballpark Saturday, May 17, 2014 in Orem. (Hugh Carey, Deseret News)

In the final game against Spanish Fork he went 3-4 from the plate with a home run and four RBIs to lead his team to a 6-4 win.

“I think he’s the best player in the state and I think he proved that with his play in the final game,” Stringfellow said. “He does it from the plate and he’s also a great center fielder and had no errors all season long.”

According to Stringfellow Curtis’ strength as a player comes from a hyper-competitive nature that added significantly to his team’s overall play.

“I think every player we had added something and with Ryan it was a hate-to-lose attitude that always wanted more,” Stringfellow said. “It’s the type of attitude you need to accomplish what we did and we don’t do that without Ryan Curtis’ play and his attitude. I can’t say enough about the kid.”

Ryan Curtis, Bountiful (Photo courtesy Bountiful High School) Ryan Curtis, Bountiful (Photo courtesy Bountiful High School)

3A MVP Wyatt Barrus

When Barrus took the field you could readily sense his presence and anticipate him doing something big.

Whether it be from the mound, the infield or the plate the junior slugger would deliver time and again during the Cowboys' historic championship run.

"He's the heart and soul of our team," said Grantsville Coach Loren Anderson. "He's the leader of the team, the guy everyone looks to and what's great about him is he always delivers when you need it most."

Barrus hit an astonishing .517 from the plate with eight home runs and 53 RBIs. He also went 9-2 on the mound and was never better than in the state playoffs.

In every game played Barrus would contribute something big whether it be a towering home run or a gutty performance from the mound.

Easton Walker, Pleasant Grove (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Easton Walker, Pleasant Grove (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

"He's a player that truly does it all and he does whatever you need whenever you need it," Anderson said. "He has a very high baseball IQ and you expect big things whenever he comes to bat or whenever he pitches. He earned those expectations and what's great is he almost always meets those expectations with his play."

While Barrus' play spoke for itself throughout 2014, it was his vocal leadership that aided his team tremendously.

"He's great in the community, he represents the team as well as you could hope," Anderson said. "He's very popular with his teammates and he's our leader. There's no question he's our leader and he's fine with the role. He thrives in the role."

Ryan Curtis, Bountiful (Photo courtesy Bountiful High School) Ryan Curtis, Bountiful (Photo courtesy Bountiful High School)

2A MVP Ridge Nielsen

Ever since he became a starter as a freshman Nielsen has quietly gone about his business benefitting his team with both his play and with his approach.

"He's a team captain for us and he's been a leader ever since he was a freshman," said Emery coach Steven Gordon. "To me that's the best kind of leader. A guy who keeps his head down and just shows people the way to do things instead of just talk about it. That's what has made Ridge so good along with just being a great talent."

Nielsen played both shortstop and pitcher for the Spartans and compiled a .517 batting average, a .969 fielding percentage and a 6-0 pitching record.

"He's comfortable in any situation against any opponent and he's always consistent," Gordon said. "This year he became our main starter at pitcher and he was fine with it. He didn't lose a game and we really relied heavily on him in every game."

Like most MVPs Nielsen's best work came during Emery's championship run, providing key hits and eventually closing out Grand County on the mound for the championship.

"In any situation, I mean, any hit you need any jam we needed to pitch out of, Ridge was our guy," Gordon said. "He's meant so much to this school and to this community. There's no question he's the MVP."

Email: bgurney@desnews.com Twitter: @BrandonCGurney

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