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Jason Olson, Deseret News
4A MVP: Ryan Thomas, Cottonwood

The value of a player can be based on a couple of factors.

What type of numbers does a player put up? How do his teammates react to him? What are the intangible factors like leadership or attitude?

But the most important thing is, does he help the team win?

The Deseret News Most Valuable Players all had the winning factor down. Rhett Nelson of Timpanogos, Ryan Thomas of Cottonwood, A.J. Carman from Judge Memorial and Kevin Nay of Gunnison all helped lead their teams to state championships and thus proved to be the MVPs of their respective classifications.

5A: There was a week late in Timpanogos' Region 4 schedule in which the Timberwolves looked far from a state-title caliber team.

Following a two-game sweep at the hands of American Fork, the T-Wolves were suddenly tied for third and found themselves in serious jeopardy of being caught for the league's final playoff berth. And next on the schedule was a road game with the highly-ranked Spanish Fork Dons.

But in a game Timpanogos needed to win more than any other this far in its season, junior Rhett Nelson had a monster day. In fact, it was a performance that seemed to calm any panic the T-Wolves had and had them playing with confidence and ease from that point on all the way to the state 5A championship. Nelson not only shut out the Dons with his right arm, but he went 4-for-4 at the plate with a home run and four RBIs.

"Honestly, I think he kind of took on this it's-up-to-me attitude," Timpanogos coach Kim Nelson said. "It was truly an amazing performance on his part, and winning that game just seemed to make everyone on the team feel that we were going to be OK."

Even with that clutch game at Spanish Fork, the T-Wolves still wouldn't have gone on to win the 5A title had Rhett Nelson not continued to deliver on the mound and at the plate. He was the winning pitcher in three of Timpanogos' five playoff wins, allowing a total of only 13 hits in those three games. Nelson also raised his batting average more than 100 points over the final two weeks of the season.

"Certainly, I don't think there was anyone more valuable to us over the final few weeks," coach Nelson said.

Most fellow 5A coaches felt the same way, which is why Rhett Nelson is the 2008 Deseret News 5A baseball MVP. For the season, he finished with a 10-0 record and an ERA of 2.03 with 76 strikeouts. He also batted .369 with 19 RBIs.

"The rest of the team seemed to feed off of what Rhett was doing," coach Nelson said. "It just seemed like when Rhett was throwing his best and swinging the bat his best, that a lot of other guys suddenly got a lot more productive as well."

4A: With the departure of three-time MVP Tanner Robles, Cottonwood was looking for someone, anyone, to step up and fill the void left by graduation. In the previous three seasons, the Colts knew they could count on not only Robles, but senior catcher Rem Wilson to make plays, rally the troops and display the leadership needed to lead them to a title. But who would take on that role this season?

"People really wondered about us," said coach Jon Hoover. "With those two seniors gone, people said that we would not be able to replace them, that we would falter."

Along came Ryan Thomas.

The senior first baseman was a relative unknown after spending a year playing junior varsity baseball waiting to regain his eligibility after transferring. Everyone could see the talent at that level, but how would that transfer to the big stage? How would he fit in with a team returning seven starters from a state title-winner?

Very well, thank you.

"We all knew Ryan could play, but he surpassed anything I thought we were going to get from him," Hoover said. "He proved early that he could flat-out play the game. He was outstanding for us all season. He led us in almost every offensive category and carried us at times."

Thomas hit .524 with 10 home runs and 42 RBIs. He hit cleanup in a potent lineup and crushed any doubts as to whether the Colts were still contenders. Cottonwood won its third consecutive 4A title, and fourth overall, with Thomas leading the way.

"This is why I came here, to win a state championship," said Thomas of the move to Cottonwood. "I wanted to come and play for coach Hoover, and to know what it feels like to win a state title. It is everything I dreamed of and I couldn't be happier with my decision."

Certainly everyone at Cottonwood is happy with his decision as well, and Thomas' stellar play and overall contributions to the Colts made him an easy decision for MVP.

3A: Opposing coaches may be in awe when Judge's A.J. Carman returns next season. That is because the hard-throwing, sweet-swinging junior has been tearing up his opponents for three years already.

As a freshman, Carman helped the Bulldogs get to the 3A championship game. His sophomore season, he had a playoff game that showed his true mettle as he threw 180 pitches to get a win over Juan Diego. And during his junior year, all he did was win 10 games, hit .560 and drive in 42 runs to earn MVP honors.

"He is the perfect choice for MVP," said Bulldogs coach Jeff Myaer. "He was lights out on the mound and led us in almost every category at the dish. I think he struck out something like four or five times all season. He just keeps getting better and better."

In 85 at-bats, Carman had 48 hits, including a whopping 27 for extra bases with 20 doubles, two triples and five home runs. On the mound, he threw 55 innings and struck out 83 while giving up only 14 earned runs.

"He has all the potential to be a great, great pitcher," Myaer said. "He throws strikes and has nasty stuff. The thing about A.J. is, I don't think he is anywhere near as good as he is going to be. I think he will go on and play in college before he gets close to as good as he will be."

Besides having all the physical tools, Carman has one thing that Myaer said separates him from others: the desire to compete. That was evident in the 3A state title game, where he was not in top form, but still found a way to win and gave the Bulldogs their first title in school history.

"I didn't have my best stuff," he said. "I don't know why, but all my stuff was up in the zone. I just kept trying to find it and knew that as long as I kept us close, my teammates were going to pick me up. I just wanted to keep throwing."

Unfortunately for opponents of Judge, that is exactly what Carman intends to keep doing next season as well.

2A: Kevin Nay won six games in the postseason the past two years in leading the Gunnison Bulldogs to back-to-back state titles and winning the 2A classification MVP for two straight years.

The senior won nearly every big game in his career, including winning the state title game in each of the last two seasons. He was the key cog and a three-year starter for a team that made the championship game in each of the last three seasons.

"There is no doubt that Kevin is the MVP," said Bulldogs coach Jared Anderson. "All season he set a standard, an example, and the rest of the guys were forced to keep up. He was our all-everything guy. Whatever we needed out of him we got."

Besides dominating on the mound — he was 11-1 with a 1.25 ERA and set the all-time career state strikeout record with 340 — Nay also was no slouch at the plate, where he hit .385 with 16 RBIs. And even more than those numbers, whenever the team needed a clutch hit, Nay seemed to be the one that came through.

"For three years, Kevin has had the ability to get things done for us," Anderson said. "He is just one of those players that steps up when it is the biggest stage. He doesn't shrink when the pressure is on. Instead, I think he gets even better."

The fact that he stepped up his game under pressure was a good thing this season.

"It was harder this season because everyone was out to get us," Nay said. "We had a lot more expectations and it put more pressure on us to win. We kind of came out of nowhere last season, but that wasn't going to happen this season. We had a target on our backs, but it makes it all that much sweeter winning it that way."


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