The addition of a sixth classification throughout the 2017-2018 high school sports season has had a major impact on every sport and has also opened up opportunities for new schools that otherwise hadn’t been there in the past.
It’s time to find out how the baseball landscape will be changed with the addition of Class 6A for the 2018 season, which gets underway this week across the state despite the recent snowstorms.
Bingham, Cottonwood, Dixie, Grand and Beaver begin the season ranked No. 1 in their respective classifications according to the Deseret News baseball preseason coaches rankings.
Here’s a closer look at each classification heading into the season.
Most of the usual suspects headline the 6A preseason rankings, led by Bingham, American Fork, Pleasant Grove and Lone Peak. Missing from that list though is defending champion Cottonwood, which remained in Class 5A.
The Colts’ departure guarantees a new state champion in 2018, and it’s no secret where that team will likely come from — Region 4.
The top four teams in the preseason rankings all come from Region 4, and the early nod in those rankings goes to Bingham.
“We’re in a tough region and traveling to the south won’t be easy. We do have a little pitching returning, but we’re replacing six of eight position players, so experience and scoring runs may be an issue. We hope we’ll be able to compete with some of the state’s traditional baseball powers,” said Bingham coach Joey Sato.
Bingham’s top returning pitchers are both lefties, Derek Soffe and Peyton Jones, which is a great foundation to build on. Also returning for the Miners is first team all-state first baseman Nick Burdette, who hit .452 last season.
American Fork checks in at No. 2 in the preseason rankings and will be led by shortstop/pitcher Ryan Hardman, who was a second team all-stater a year ago.
Pleasant Grove has been sent into the one-loss bracket on the opening day of the state tournament each of the past two seasons, but coach Darrin Harry hopes that trend changes this season. Leading the way for the Vikings is returning first team all-state shortstop Brock Watkins, who batted .432 with eight home runs and 39 RBI as a sophomore last season.
Lone Peak is a perennial contender, and this year it will be led by first-year coach Jeremy Berg who is excited about the upcoming season.
“We are an athletic group that will play an exciting brand of baseball. When we play our game we will compete with anybody. We will be tested throughout our schedule and it will give us the experience needed to make a run,” said Berg.
While Region 4 garners most of the preseason attention, Northridge, Cyprus and Riverton head into the season as the preseason favorites in their respective regions.
Northridge returns seven seniors who were key contributors last season.
Cottonwood went a perfect 5-0 in the 5A playoffs last year to claim the state title, while Timpanogos went a sparkling 28-1 en route to claiming the 4A title.
Something’s gotta give now that they’re paired up in the same classification this season.
Both teams graduated the bulk of their top players from a year ago, so there’s no guarantee that either Cottonwood or Timpanogos will win the state title in a couple months anyway. With that said, the cupboard wasn’t bare for either team as both head into the season with high expectations as Cottonwood begins the year ranked first in the Deseret News preseason rankings and Timpanogos second.
“We are excited for the opportunity to compete in a new region and a new classification. We will strive to put out a competitive team daily and represent Cottonwood High School and our community with pride,” said Cottonwood coach Jason Crawford.
Cottonwood won last year’s 5A title with dominant senior pitching. This year, juniors Porter Hodge and sophomore Ross Dunn hope to anchor the staff.
It’s no secret who will anchor Timpanogos’ staff. Derik Eaquinto has a 26-1 record the past two seasons in helping lead the T-Wolves to back-to-back state titles.
Spencer Olsen will handle the catching duties for Timpanogos, but after that, there are a lot of question marks for coach Kim Nelson’s team.
“We graduated 10 seniors from a team that went 28-1. We have a lot of questions for positions that will hopefully be answered in preseason games to prepare for region play,” said Nelson.
Cottonwood travels to Timpanogos on March 30, a great early indicator on who the 5A front runner will be.
Both teams will have their hands full just to try and win their respective region. Jordan begins the ranked No. 3 in 5A, and is led by senior pitcher Gage Edwards who pitched 28 consecutive shutout innings last season during region play. He was named a first team all-stater, while Noah Hennings was a second-teamer.
“We have a senior-heavy team this year with great leadership. We are hoping that all of our hard work that the boys have been putting in will help us to reach our goals,” said Jordan coach Chad Fife.
Skyridge had just one starting player graduate last year. Therefore, it will be a big threat in 5A this season. Leading the way for the Falcons is first baseman Jace Shepherd and second baseman Jaxon Peck.
Region 5 figures to be a two-team race between Bountiful and Woods Cross, while Olympus begins the season as the slight favorite in Region 6 just ahead of Murray.
Olympus is led by senior pitchers Harrison Creer and Spencer Jones, two key players on Olympus’ basketball state championship team.
The deepest and most competitive classification will likely be 4A, with quality teams from Cache County all the way down to St. George.
Highlighting that group is defending 3A state champion Dixie. The Flyers return last year’s 3A MVP, Tyson Fisher, along with two other first-teamers, Hobbs Nyberg and Payden Harrah.
“We will need to work hard to compete with the strong teams competing at the 4A level. As always, consistent pitching and solid defense will be the keys to our success this year,” said Dixie coach Danny Ipson.
The quality within Dixie’s own region will be very good led by Desert Hills and Snow Canyon, both of who return a first team all-stater.
Snow Canyon shortstop Austin Deming is back after batting .533 last year with 45 RBI. Desert Hills shortstop/pitcher Drew Thorpe returns after a strong sophomore season in which he batted .382 and had a 1.08 ERA in 45 innings.
Region 10 front-runner Spanish Fork begins the year ranked second in 4A as it’s led by junior pitcher/outfielder Cy Nielson. He finished with a 10-1 ERA and a .348 batting average in 2017.
“We are replacing a really good senior class from last year’s 4A runner-up team, but we also return four starters, plus another couple players with a lot of experience. Some unproven players should get an opportunity to show what they can do,” said Spanish Fork coach Casey Nelson.
Juan Diego checks in at No. 5 in the preseason rankings, and has a strong pitch staff led by returning first team all-stater Cooper Rust and returning second-team all-stater Easton Rex.
“We have a hard-working team that has put in a lot of time with the program and will be returning some key players that have some really good varsity and postseason experience,” said Juan Diego coach Kellen Carsey.
The battle for supremacy in Region 12 figures to be a dogfight between Sky View, Bear River, Mountain Crest and Ridgeline.
Grand was the runner-up in 2A last year behind Gunnison, and this year it opens the season as the preseason No. 1 in Class 3A with numerous key contributors back.
Leading the way is pitcher/catcher Brayden Schultz and pitcher/outfielder Josh Jones. Both were first team all-staters last season and had a combined 16-2 record on the mound. Bruin Meador and Masen Ward are returning second-team all-staters.
Grantsville begins the season ranked No. 2 behind new head coach Aaron Perkins.
“We have a good mix of returning and young players who will compete at the varsity level this year. We are excited for the opportunity to compete in a new region and play a difficult preseason schedule,” said Perkins.
Big things are expected from seniors Brady Arbon and Coy Johnson just like they have been in multiple sports this season for Grantsville.
Carbon, South Sevier and Judge Memorial round out the preseason top five in 3A.
Cody Lowe is a returning starting pitcher for Carbon, and he highlights a key group of seniors who hope to lead Carbon success in the revamped Class 3A.
“We have a good group of seniors and juniors on this year’s team that have put in a lot of work in the offseason. We are coming off another successful summer of American Legion baseball and I hope that carries over to the high school season,” said Carbon coach Jeff Cisneros.
Already this season Beaver High School has won a basketball state title and had a runner-up finish in football, and this spring it begins as the preseason No. 1 in the Deseret News coaches rankings.
The Beavers are led by returning first team all-stater Porter Hollingshead, who batted .515 as a junior last year and a had a 1.13 ERA.
Four other seniors will be key as well this year, Davis Heslington, Braxton Albrecht, Jacob Barrett and Tyce Raddon.
Gunnison went a perfect 5-0 in last year’s state tournament, and that squad was led by a great core of seniors.
A couple of sophomores played very key roles down the stretch for the Bulldogs — Ty Hill and Parx Bartholomew — and they’ll be counted on for much larger roles this season.
“We definitely know we have a lot of work to do and a lot of key roles to fill for this upcoming year. We are excited for the new year and look forward in competing against some quality 2A baseball teams,” said coach Jared Anderson.
Enterprise, Kanab and North Sevier round out the top five in 2A.