What exactly is the most important thing an athlete can provide for their team?
While publicity, second-glance statistics and good looks (well, maybe) can all be nice, the answer to that question is obvious: winning.
In 2013, the Deseret News baseball MVPs worried about what was most important — helping their teams win — and let everything else follow.
Throughout March and into May, Bingham’s Chase Tavonatti, Salem Hills’ Colton Hill, Snow Canyon’s Riley Gates and Beaver’s Sam Myers repeatedly delivered. Collectively, the four players' teams won 81 percent of their games with a combined record of 89-21, and as a result, they have been named the MVPs of their classifications.
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Tavonatti isn’t afraid to let opposing batters know when he blows one past them. When he entered in the seventh inning to save the 5A state championship with a runner on second, Tavonatti was a chimney of emotion.
After the first pitch popped the catchers’ glove, Tavonatti threw his arms up like Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez. Bingham coach Joey Sato said Tavonatti put his “whole heart and soul into that first pitch.” The boiling emotion reverberated across the diamond, and in 1-2-3 fashion, Tavonatti retired the side to help the Miners win their 21st state title.
“That’s the guy we expected,” Sato said. “Our guys are really confident when he’s on the mound and even though there was a guy on base already, we knew that he would be able to get the job done.”
Tavonatti, who committed to Salt Lake Community College, finished tied for the most wins in 5A with an 8-1 record. In 61 innings, while maintaining a 1.82 ERA, he struck out 52 batters compared to only 17 walks for a sparkling 3-to-1 ratio.
“Obviously very deserving and he was an outstanding competitor for us in his time here at Bingham,” Sato said. “He kind of carried the load on the mound for us this year. Everytime he went out there the guys knew they had a great chance to win.”
Tavonatti often worked quickly, which sent opposing teams spiraling.
“We keep a statistic called ‘quality innings,’ which means he either got a 1-2-3 inning or he finished the inning in 14 pitches or less,” Sato explained. “So, obviously he had to throw a lot of first-pitch strikes and get ahead of hitters.
“Out of his 61 innings, he had 47 quality innings. He was able to get outs quickly, which allowed him to go deep into games. He knows how to compete when he’s on the mound.”
The stereotypical pitcher hardly contributes offensively. Finding a dominant arm that can put the bat on the ball is like a solar eclipse, but that’s the luxury Salem Hills enjoyed all season long with Hill.
“Colton has been a special player,” Skyhawks coach Scott Haney said. “He could actually play anywhere on the field. He’s just that versatile. This year when he wasn’t sharp our team picked him up, but there were a few times where he carried us. He just has that ability. He works hard at it and I can’t be more pleased with the success that he’s had.”
Hill led the state in wins by two games and finished with a 12-1 record. The lone loss came at Maple Mountain, a game Hill had strung together five hitless innings in. He finishes with a school-record 27 wins and helped grasp the first title in program history.
“He set a goal to get 25 wins at the start of the year and ended up getting 27,” Haney said. “A couple times he was a little bit sore, but he didn’t want to miss the start. He got himself ready to go. That’s what I like. He’d take the ball at anytime.”
With his wicked breaking ball and consistent change-up, Haney wondered if his lineup, which included Taylor Snyder, who led the state with 12 homers, and Garrett McEwan, who co-led the state with 13 doubles, would have been able to figure Hill out.
“I always wondered if our team would hit him because we were good hitters — I’m glad that I don’t have to find out,” Haney said. “It did make me wonder, 'Would we hit Colton Hill?' He had been successful against everybody we played.”
At the plate, Hill added to the depth of the order. He finished with 12 doubles, two triples and two bombs — a grand slam in the semifinals and another in the state championship.
“I think once region started, (he was) on fire at the plate, too. And of course the two home runs in the state tournament were huge,” Haney said. “He has fun playing; he’s a competitor; and he’s a good leader for us. He’s kind of a goofball once in a while but he’s just one of those guys that goes out and gets it done.”
Being named the 3A MVP is an incredible feat, but being considered the best player to ever walk the halls of your school is on another level entirely. For Snow Canyon coach Reed Secrist, Gates is unquestionably the best player to ever suit up for the Warriors.
“He’s definitely the best kid that I’ve ever coached — there’s no doubt about it,” Secrist said. “Starting as a freshman and then all the way through. It’s been great to have him the last four years. There’s no doubt that Riley is by far the best player that’s played at Snow Canyon High School.”
Secrist knew Gates, who will play at BYU after returning from an LDS mission, was an extraordinary talent since his freshman season.
“He really could do everything. When he first came in as a freshman he ended up beating our other first baseman out at first base and ended up playing,” Secrist said. “We always knew that he was going to have a great arm, so he ended up closing games his freshman year and he had five saves.
“The next year we knew he was going to be good, but we didn’t want to burn him on the mound, so we had him save games again and he had nine saves his sophomore year.”
Gates finished his career with another state championship to complement his junior season ring. He tallied a 6-5 record his senior year, however, nestled within those wins were two no-hitters — against Mountain Crest and Dixie — along with a critical win against Spanish Fork in the state playoffs. He also added eight doubles and three homers while playing lockdown defense at first base.
“He’s great around the bag at first base — probably better than any high school kid I’ve seen — defensively, and he can swing it from the left side, too,” Secrist said. “Everyone talks about the way he pitches, but I think he definitely could have been a junior college first baseman.”
Usually MVP honors are awards go to the best player on the championship team. However, this season, Myers’ accomplishments were impossible to ignore.
“He’s been doing this for three years. Since his sophomore year he’s been our horse on the hill and he’s a leader for the team,” Beaver coach Curt Heslington said. “His work ethic is unbelievable and he carried the team in a leadership responsibility. His desire to win is incredible.
“You just don’t get kids like him in a little 2A program very often. For a town of Beaver to have a kid like him win the MVP and doesn’t win the state title shows just how dominating he actually was.”
Now to the statistics. (You might want to sit down for this.)
Myers finished 11-1 his senior season, upping his career-record to 19-4, with a 1.2 ERA. In 78 innings, he struck out 129 batters, including striking out 14 or more hitters in four games.
“I’ve seen some darn good ballplayers, but I’ve never seen a kid dominate the game in 2A like Sam Myers did,” Heslington said.
At the plate Myers led the state with 18 doubles, along with two triples, three homers and 39 RBIs off 46 hits. On the year he had a .667 batting average, a .710 on-base average and a 1.115 slugging percentage. In over 70 at-bats, he struck out once.
“That’s insane,” Heslington said. “Even the opposing coaches — Kanab’s Mason Fox — said to me one day, ‘I’ve been looking at the line scores. Has he made an out in the last five games?’ And I said, ‘No, he hasn’t.’ There was a stretch where he was 19 of 21 with nine-10 doubles. It was incredible.”