The mood among the top contenders heading into the upcoming 3A baseball state tournament couldn’t be more different.
For programs like Carbon, Grantsville, Richfield and Juab, there’s a confidence and excitement in the revamped 3A which no longer includes the traditional powers from Southern Utah, as those programs all bumped up to 4A.
Carbon, Grantsville, Richfield and Juab all lost in the 3A first round last year, and only one advanced through the one-loss bracket into the second week. This year all four expect to be playing beyond this weekend’s first two rounds and into next week’s games when the tourney shifts to Kearns High School.
“It’s at least given schools our size at least an opportunity,” said Carbon coach Jeff Cisneros. “The race is a little more wide open now, and more than a couple schools have an opportunity.”
For Grand, its perspective is much different.
In 2A last year Grand advanced all the way to the championship game before losing to Gunnison. The year before it finished third. Many of the starters from both of those teams are seniors now and would love another shot to be playing on the final day of the season at Kearns again.
“These guys are competitive on a daily basis. Anything they can turn into a game they turn into a game. They don’t want to lose to each other and they don’t want to lose to anyone else. Motivation has not been a problem for this group,” said Grand coach Jared Meador.
The tourney gets underway this Saturday at regional sites hosted by No. 1 seeds Grantsville, Carbon and Richfield and then Region 14 runner-up Juab.
With pitch count restrictions teams now face, remaining in the winners bracket heading into the second week is a huge advantage. That won’t be easy for the hosts at the Carbon, Richfield and Juab regionals.
Carbon won the Region 14 title and Grand earned a share of the Region 15 crown, but they’re competing at the same regional and will likely square off in the second round.
“In order to accomplish your goal you’ve got to beat the best, so whether you get them in the second round or quarters or semis or wherever you get them,” said Cisneros.
Grand has a strong pitching staff led by Josh Jones (8-1), Alec Williams (5-1) and Masen Ward (4-2), while Cody Lowe (5-0) anchors a Carbon staff that is strong down to its sixth pitcher.
Richfield won the Region 15 tiebreaker coin flip against Grand to earn the right to hosts on Saturday, but it also faces a tough regional that includes Union and Judge.
Grantsville was the only 20-game winner in 3A this season and it heads into the playoffs as the front-runner with a pitching staff led by Justin Richardson (6-0), Brady Arbon (5-0) and Parker Thomas (5-1).
“Pitching has been our stretch all year and I think if we continue to throw strikes like we have been, I think we just continue to do that we’ll be OK,” said Grantsville coach Aaron Perkins.
Grantsville’s regional is the only one of the four that doesn’t feature another team with a winning regular season record.
With just three regions in 3A this season, Juab gets to host a regional as a No. 2 seed. It’s a regional with no clear favorite, with any of the four teams capable of winning a pair of games on Saturday.