SALT LAKE CITY — Despite the snow on the ground in many parts of the state, high school baseball season has finally arrived.
The 2018-19 season officially gets underway this week, with many teams flocking to the warmer weather in St. George this weekend to participate in four tournaments hosted by Region 9 teams.
As the season gets underway, Bingham, Jordan, Desert Hills, Grantsville and Kanab begin the season ranked No. 1 in their respective classifications according to the Deseret News baseball preseason coaches rankings. Only one preseason No. 1 last season backed up the hype with a state title, however.
Here’s a closer look at each classification heading into the season.
Bingham captured its 22nd state championship in school history last season, snapping a drought of four years, and it begins 2019 as the frontrunner to repeat snagging the top spot in the Deseret News preseason coaching rankings.
“Helps that they both are quality two-way players. Looking for senior and junior classes to step up and fill in positions vacated. Hoping tradition will carry us till we get our feet on the ground,” said Sato, whose team beat Riverton in Game 2 of last year’s state championship.
Rounding out the top five in the preseason rankings are American Fork, Pleasant Grove, Copper Hills and Lone Peak. Copper Hills is the only top five team from outside of Region 4.
American Fork finished second to Bingham in Region 4 last year, and that’s where it begins the season again as it returns with a fair amount of varsity experience.
“We are going to have to limit mistakes and grow through adversity early to become a tough team. Looking forward to our tough preseason schedule for preparing us for region play,” said American Fork coach Jared Ingersoll.
Pleasant Grove finished a distant third in region to Bingham and American Fork last year, and it will need to break in a talented new pitching staff to challenge for the top spot this year.
“We will have a new pitching staff who will need to raise their level of play to compete in a great region and state classification,” said coach Darrin Henry.
While Bingham headlines Region 4, the other region favorites heading into the season are Davis (Region 1), Cyprus (Region 2) and Copper Hills (Region 3).
Copper Hills returns one of only two Deseret News first team all-staters in junior shortstop Brayden Taylor.
The only other returning first teamer from last year is Clearfield pitcher Bryson Hirabayashi.
Eight of last year’s 14 Deseret News first team all-state selections were underclassmen, and all that returning talent should make for a very exciting season in Class 5A.
Defending state champion Jordan returns three of those all-staters — Jacob Shaver, Hunter Swapp and Kyson Stein — as it edged Cottonwood for the top spot in the statewide preseason rankings as voted on by all the 5A coaches. Interestingly though, in the more specific Region 7 preseason rankings it was Cottonwood with more first-place votes as it begins as the Region 7 favorite.
The disparity shows just how competitive it might be between the Region 7 rivals this year.
Cottonwood also returns three all-staters from last year: Ross Dunn, Dalton Hodge and Porter Hodge. Dunn and Porter Hodge combined for a 14-2 record on the mound and provide a formidable one-two punch.
“Our team had a good fall and winter. Our program is excited for the schedule we have this season. We have great senior leadership with lots of experience. We look to be tested and learn about who we are as we strive to make a postseason run,” said Cottonwood coach Jason Crawford.
Rounding out the rest of the preseason top five rankings are Region 8 foes Skyridge and Timpanogos, and then Olympus.
Skyridge coach Ryan Roberts said his team has some key holes to fill in the lineup, but has quite a lot of returning varsity experience led by all-state pitcher Carter Smith.
Timpanogos has a strong pitching staff to build around and five returning position players.
“We return almost a whole pitching staff that won 19 games a year ago. Hopefully the experience makes us better this year, with the addition of younger players to fill in the holes,” said coach Kim Nelson.
Olympus was the 5A runner-up at state last year, but every contributor was a senior. It will battle it out with Murray for the Region 6 title.
In Region 5, Box Elder got the slight of being no one's preseason favorite but there was no consensus among the coaches as four different teams got first-place votes.
Dixie edged Desert Hills in dramatic fashion to capture the 4A championship last season, and if the Deseret News preseason coaches rankings are any indicator, the region rivals could be playing on the last day of the season again.
It’s runner-up Desert Hills, not defending champion Dixie, that gets the early nod as preseason No. 1 with Dixie right behind in second.
“We are excited about the upcoming season and hope that our experience with having seven starters back from last year will help us to continue to improve,” said Desert Hills coach Chris Allred.
Dixie definitely has more holes to plug after graduating some outstanding seniors, including last year’s Deseret News Mr. Baseball Tyson Fisher. Junior pitcher Cooper Vest is a great player to build around those as he posted an 8-0 record last year with a 2.59 ERA.
Kaylor Yates is another key returning starter who was named second team all-state last year.
Rounding out the rest of the 4A top five are Spanish Fork, Snow Canyon and Juan Diego.
Spanish Fork must replace six major contributors from last season, but it has a strong senior group to pick up the slack led by Cy Neilson (OF/P), who was a first team all-stater last year.
The Dons should get plenty of competition in Region 10 from Salem Hills again this year.
In Region 9 last year it was Snow Canyon, not Desert Hills, that was the runner-up to Dixie for the region title and the Warriors will be in the thick of the race once again.
“We have a solid senior class that will compete again this year with help from a lot of underclassmen that will contribute to the overall success of the team,” said Snow Canyon coach Reid Secrist.
Juan Diego is the favorite to repeat as Region 11 champs this year, led by all-stater Cooper Rust.
In Region 12 three teams have new head coaches (Green Canyon, Logan and Ridgeline), which has created some uncertainty heading into the season. Ridgeline and Bear River are the early favorites.
Grantsville might’ve graduated the bulk of its top contributors from last year’s state title team, but coach Aaron Perkins still expects his team to be right in the thick of the 3A race again this season.
“Coming off a championship season, we have three returning starters and a good group of talented players who will compete for varsity time. We look forward to the challenges ahead and are excited about our schedule this season,” said Perkins.
Close behind Grantsville in the Deseret News coach preseason rankings are Carbon and Richfield, both of which have strong core players returning.
Carbon is led by returning all-state shortstop Ty Anderson who batted .380 last season.
“We have a good group of seniors who saw a lot of varsity action last season. We will rely on our underclassmen to fill some big shoes left by last year’s senior class,” said Carbon coach Jeff Cisneros. “If we work hard, we will give ourselves a chance to be competitive in any game we play.”
Richfield has the most returning experience of the top contenders, with nine seniors back from last year’s Region 15 championship team. Among them is all-stater Emmitt Hafen, who’s a force on the mound and at the plate.
“We should be a lot more solid team this year with more pitching and experience, since finishing fourth at state in 2018. We have a solid defense and should produce more runs on offense,” said Richfield coach Faron Reed.
Rounding out the preseason top five are Union and Juab. Both return numerous starters from last season and should be able to compete with any team in 3A.
Parity should again be a theme in 2A this year, with pitching staff depth once again being the top priority.
After the expected blowouts in the opening round of the state tournament last year, every game but one in the remaining winners bracket games were decided by three runs or less. One hit was often the difference between marching on in the winners bracket or falling behind in the one-loss bracket.
North Sevier ended up beating Kanab three times in the playoffs to claim the state title.
A year later, though, it’s Kanab that begins the year ranked No. 1 in the preseason coaches rankings.
“Looking forward to getting the season started. We have a lot of returning starters. We have a lot of depth on our bench and look forward to a great season,” said Kanab coach Mason Fox.
Gunnison Valley narrowly edged North Sevier for the preseason No. 2 ranking, and has the experience to push for another state title like in 2017.
Leading the way for the Bulldogs is Parx Bartholomew (P/OF), who batted .507 last year with a 6-2 record on the mound.1 comment on this story
North Sevier went 4-1 in last year’s state tournament, and all five games were tight. That experience in crunch time should help the ‘Wolves in big games again this year.
“Although we lost some incredible seniors last year, we feel like we have the nucleus of that title team returning. We know it will be a tall task to try and go back to back, but this team is excited for the challenge,” said coach Josh Robinson.