SPANISH FORK — A year ago, the Panguitch High baseball team flew into the 1A tournament "under the radar," according to Bobcats head coach Clint Barney, then soared all the way to the state championship led by the strong right arm of starting pitcher Dalan Bennett.
Well, the Bobcats will certainly be a big, ominous blip on everybody's "radar screen" when this year's 1A tourney begins today, because the defending state champs haven't lost all season long and — with Bennett back to put the finishing touches on a stellar senior season — definitely stand tall as the team to beat.
Panguitch has piled up a perfect 20-0 record this season, which in itself is pretty darned impressive. Then when you look at their runs scored/runs allowed statistics, the Bobcats' 2012 campaign takes on a mighty majestic appearance — 276 runs scored (an average of almost 24 runs per game) as opposed to just 34 runs allowed (less than 2 per game).
You don't have to be a mathematician to know that, if you're outscoring your opponents 24-2, well, you've got a pretty good chance of winning.
But coach Barney says those statistics may be somewhat misleading, and he's wary of every team in the eight-team tournament field.
"A lot of our early season games were non-league games in tournaments," he pointed out, "so I think you can throw a lot of those (statistics) out the window because we were facing a lot of third- and fourth-string pitchers, and maybe we weren't facing each team's best pitcher.
"All of the teams that are left in the state tournament certainly have a pitcher that can shut down their opponent and give their team a chance to win. We don't have a chance to have an off day, and there's no losers' bracket. While a team might not be stacked to win the entire tournament, one pitcher can definitely send a team home. And each team in the quarterfinals has a pitcher with the potential to do that. Each team really does possess a pitcher that, on a given day, can beat anybody. So we're not taking any team lightly."
Panguitch faces Region 18 runner-up Tintic in today's quarterfinal games, which will be played at the Spanish Fork Complex, with the four winners advancing to the semifinals on Friday at Dixie State College. The championship game will be played Saturday morning on the Dixie State diamond.
While Bennett is the Bobcats' No. 1 starter who, thanks to weather-related delays, pitched — and won — all three games in last year's state tournament, they've also gotten strong pitching performances from left-handers Chance Campbell and Kaden Figgins this year. Campbell, Sam Vasquez and Bennett have been their most consistent hitters, but Tyce Barney and Josh Henry have also swung the bats strongly for the Region 20 champions, and they've received contributions all the way up and down their batting lineup.
And since the season started, coach Barney says things have settled into more baseball-like scores since league play got under way.
"Sure, we started out like gangbusters, scoring a lot of runs, and I attribute that to facing teams' third or fourth guy in their rotation," he said. "Some of scores were inflated because of that.
"Since region play started, many of our games have been much closer. Young teams like Wayne and Piute have gotten a lot better since the season has gone on and their confidence has grown. And (Region 18 champion) Tabiona's a good team with two real strong pitchers. Tabiona and Wayne are matched up against each other in the first round, and they're both really good teams. On paper, that's probably the most evenly matched first-round game, and whoever wins that game could easily ride that momentum right through the tournament.
"We feel confident about our chances," coach Barney said. "When the season started out, we were scoring a lot of runs. But our strength all year, as the grind of the season goes on, has been our pitching and defense. We've been winning games more on our pitching and defense than we are with our bats, and we hope that continues. We just want our kids to throw strikes and make plays."
1A baseball tourney
Today's first-round games
At Spanish Fork Complex
West Ridge Academy vs. play-in game winner, 10 a.m.
Panguitch vs. Tintic, noon
Tabiona vs. Wayne, 2:30 p.m.
St. Joseph vs. Piute, 4:30 p.m.
NOTE: First-round winners advance to semifinals on Friday at Dixie State College.