Beating Spanish Fork the previous three seasons was pretty much impossible, as Cambrie Hazel pitched the Dons to three straight 4A state championships.
Her graduation, and then a season-ending injury to Spanish Fork’s projected ace Brooke Carter during the opening week of the season, seemed to give the rest of 4A hope that a fourth straight title might not be in the cards in 2018.
Not so fast.
Jordin Bate and Briley Young have done a tremendous job filling the pitching void for Spanish Fork, which heads into the 4A state tournament as one of the favorites after putting together a 21-1 regular season, with that one loss coming against an out-of-state team.
Bate and Brylee Rudd have been dominant at the plate for Spanish Fork as well, with each hitting 16 home runs.
“The main players are a pretty confident bunch. Nothing seems to rattle them. We get into a little bind and they just sit tight and they come through. They know how to make some adjustments,” said Spanish Fork coach Don Andrews.
With great pitching and hitting, a four-peat might seem like an inevitability for Spanish Fork, but not this year against a stacked 4A field.
Tooele and Stansbury each won 22 games out of Region 11. Bear River won 20 games in Region 12 with Ridgeline adding 17. Down South in Region 9, region champ Cedar won 18 games, with Desert Hills winning 22.
“(Class) 4A is stacked. I think there’s four or five different teams that could go all the way, so it’s going to take our best effort to hopefully get there,” said Tooele coach Marissa Lowry.
The first two rounds of the 4A state tournament take place this Saturday at regionals hosted by the four region champs, Cedar, Spanish Fork, Tooele and Bear River.
The double-elimination tournament then shifts to the Spanish Fork Complex the following Thursday through Saturday.
A year ago Spanish Fork beat Spanish Fork in the 4A championship game, while Bear River, Ridgeline and Tooele finished second, third and fourth respectively in 3A. With UHSAA realignment they’re all competing together in the now stacked Class 4A.
As it always does, pitching will be the key in the playoffs, and the contenders all have a legit ace.
Bear River is led by Utah State commit Kapri Toone, who was the Deseret News MVP in 2016 after leading the Bears to the 3A title as a sophomore.
Tooele is led by freshman sensation Atlyn Johnson, who’s racked up double-digit wins this season.
“I had never heard of Atlyn before the season started, and to see her come in and claim her role as the starting pitcher for Tooele, it’s fun to see her step into that role and to also see the seniors step in and back her up and guide her where she needs to go,” said Lowry.
Bate has put together an 11-0 record to lead Spanish Fork’s pitchers, while senior Bryton Holyoak anchors Cedar’s staff.
Cedar ran the tables in Region 9 and hit 46 total home runs this season, but coach Chris Weaver knows the competition at state will be much better.
“I just don’t think we see the quality of pitching in Southern Utah that they have up there, so I think that puts us at a little bit of a disadvantage,” said Weaver.
On Saturday though, Cedar has the advantage by hosting a regional that includes Stansbury and Mountain Crest. It’s an advantage all four region champs how to capitalize on to remain in the winner’s bracket heading into Week 2.