Being the coach's son certainly proved to be a good thing for two of this past year's four prep baseball MVPs. In taking on his father's approach to the game, 5A MVP Payton Henry played a vital role in helping lead Pleasant Grove to a state title. The same could be said for 2A MVP James Nelson who played a huge role in Manti's march toward its state championship.
While solid throughout the year, all four MVPs proved perhaps most valuable late in the season, with state titles in the balance. Time and again each player would step up while rallying teammates to help secure the top prep prize.
5A MVP Payton Henry
When the game was on the line late, Pleasant Grove coach Darrin Henry would often go to his son to close things out from the mound. More often than not, Payton would respond.
The junior wasn't used all that often during the season, but he responded with a 0.62 ERA and five saves in nine appearances.
"The only time we'd have him pitch was when the game was on the line," Darrin Henry said. "It's a spot he was able to thrive in and that was huge for us throughout the year. He had an unbelievable season."
As good as he was closing out games, Payton Henry's best work may have been from the plate. A .527 batting average along with nine home runs and 46 RBIs attest to his batting prowess.
"He really worked hard in the offseason, not wanting to come up just short like he did last year in our final game," Darrin Henry said.
Payton's final game last year was a 4-3 loss to Jordan in the state championship game when he came up just a couple of feet short of tying up the game in the seventh inning. With two outs remaining in that game, he ripped a pitch to the right field wall for a double, coming just short of a game-tying home run.
"He was determined not to come up just short this past season and put in the work to make sure we ended things different this time," Darrin Henry said. "I'm very proud of his work ethic and focus and he's very deserving of being named the MVP."
4A MVP Tanner Nielsen
Spanish Fork's run to a 4A state championship included a steady, workmanlike approach that was rarely flashy, but almost always effective. The Dons' approach was perhaps epitomized best by 4A MVP Tanner Nielsen.
Few of Nielsen's season totals will jump off the page at a glance. He batted just .200 and did his best work from the mound, where he went 6-1 with a 3.95 ERA.
"He was the ace of our staff and just so consistent and reliable with his approach," said Spanish Fork coach Gub Nelson. "He didn't overpower anyone with his numbers, but he was the guy who always stepped up big and would do whatever we asked of him."
Nielsen's ability to step up in any given situation was apparent in the final inning of Spanish Fork's 5-4 win over Maple Mountain in the 4A state championship game. Typically a starter, Nielsen finished the Golden Eagles off for three outs in the seventh inning to secure the win.
"He just knows what needs to be done and is always willing to do it no matter what," Nelson said. "He's a very mature kid, someone who is a quiet leader, who leads by example and we couldn't have done what we did this year without him."
3A MVP Dakota Donovan
In Donovan's case, the numbers do speak for themselves.
The Pine View star compiled a .373 batting average and 30 RBIs in 2015 along with a 10-0 record from the mound, a 1.10 ERA and an astounding 92 strikeouts in 65 innings pitched.
"I expected big things from Dakota this year, but those numbers that he put up, I wasn't expecting him to be that good," said Pine View coach Michael Gargano. "I mean, the numbers didn't necessarily surprise me when considering how good of a worker he is and how talented he is, but to be quite as good as they were? No, I wasn't expecting it."
Like his fellow MVPs, Donovan stepped up big during his team's run toward a state championship. In his final two games, the junior tossed two shutouts to keep his team in the winner's bracket throughout while keeping the other Panthers' arms in the bullpen fresh.
"He really got it going in the postseason," Gargano said. "He played very well throughout the year, but what made him as great as he was, was how he finished it out. He was amazing for us."
Perhaps the best thing about Donovan, from Gargano's perspective, is getting him back next season.
"It's not going to be easy to improve on what he did this last year, but I won't be surprised when he does," Gargano said. "He's just that type of player and he's going to work as hard as ever in the offseason."
2A MVP James Nelson
Last but not least is 2A MVP James Nelson who played shortstop and pitched for the Templars throughout their 2015 championship season. From the plate, he batted .563 while securing a 7-1 record from the mound.
"He's worked very hard to be the best and did it without having to be pushed," said Nelson's father and Manti coach Jim Nelson. "He learned a lot of lessons playing as a freshman and he's been able to just get better and better."
According to Jim Nelson, his son's greatness in 2015 can be attributed to a consistent approach.
"He really didn't have any slumps," Jim Nelson said. "He was so consistent and really dependable in any situation we put him in."
Fittingly, James Nelson was called upon to close out an eventual 6-5 win over Enterprise in the 2A state championship game. Like he did throughout the year, the senior responded by throwing a scoreless inning to clinch the state title.
"That was a special moment that we'll remember for a very long time," Jim Nelson said of the state championship win. "It's really the greatest feeling in the world to be able to coach your son and see his growth — to be that close to it. I couldn't be more thankful for the opportunity and I couldn't be prouder of James, and how hard he's worked."
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