With the American Legion baseball season moving into the second half, it appears to be a wide open race. By the Fourth of July weekend there were eight Salt Lake Valley League teams with two losses or fewer - five of those eight teams having just one loss.

Taylorsville, the defending state Legion champion, is among the elite again. Coach Barry Sceili's club finished second in the 4A prep baseball championships in May. His team is 8-1 and entering the toughest part of its schedule.Taylorsville's toughest challenge is likely to come outside the confines of the state. Sceili's team enters play Thursday in the prestigious Carson City (Nev.) tournament in which teams from various areas of the country compete. That tourney will run through next Tuesday.

Leading the way for Taylorsville have been catcher Scott Peterson, center fielder Scott Wilberger and standout pitchers Kevin Quinn and Jeff Leatherwood. Right-hander Shane Johansen, who only pitched a few innings in high school play, has turned in three shutouts in Legion ball.

"I'm plesed with the team so far," said Sceili.

However well Taylorsville has played so far, Sceili says the best is yet to come - when the state tourney begins. "We play hard in league, but you try to reach a different level in August," he said.

Chasing Taylorsville is surprising Kearns, last year's runner-up. Kearns wasn't expected to be a big factor this year because the Cougars didn't make the high school playoffs this spring and last year's star player, Mike Peterson, had moved on.

But Coach Dave Cline's club has been impressive, building a 9-1 mark. Star pitcher Shawn Veazie, who had a disappointing prep season, has led the way with a 4-0 mark. Perhaps even a biger factor has been the play of unknown 16-year-olds Jared Fernandez and Rick Morgan, who have been exceptional on the mound.

"I'm really surprised," said Cline. "We would have been happy to be 5-4 at this point."

Other teams with only one loss going into this week were Murray, East and Hillcrest, with West Jordan, Tooele and Cyprus with two losses apiece.

Competition in the North and South leagues is noticeably weak this year. Defending 4A state prep champion Bountiful looked to be a strong contender in Legion play, but isn't anymore. The club began the season but forfeited some games and soon dropped out because of an inability to field enough players. Several other possibly good teams, including Layton and Bonnevile also failed to field teams. Viewmont, which made the prep 4A playoffs this year, has a Legion team, but not the full lineup that played prep ball.

In the South, defending 3A champ Spanish Fork also failed to produce a Legion team, leaving that area weak in competition as well.

The state tournament runs Aug. 5-13.