Baseball, softball preview – teams hopeful for titles
By Matt Harris
As the snow melts off the fields of schoolyard diamonds, the nylon swishes and whistles of referees give way as athletes make their way back into the sun.
Spring sports have arrived, and if last year is any indication, this is Sanpete’s time to shine.
Baseball, softball and boys’ soccer began their seasons last week for North Sanpete, Manti and Gunnison Valley high schools. The promise of new heights reached, and a crown to defend in Gunnison’s case, motivate each of our local teams to put their best foot forward as the Sanpete valley becomes green once again.
It wasn’t so long ago that the Hawks were a struggling baseball squad trying their best to stay relevant among the contenders of Central Utah. Times have changed under Head Coach Dan Christensen and there’s plenty of ground left to cover.
North Sanpete baseball turned a monumental corner last season by simultaneously posting a winning record in the regular season and making the postseason tournament for the first time in 15 years. The Hawks also posted 12 wins in the regular season, the most regular season wins of any Hawks team since before the turn of the millennium, according to Deseret News archives.
“We just keep working hard trying to improve the program,” Christensen said candidly. “We’re not doing anything, you know, out of the ordinary, just working hard…We just do the best we can with what players we have.”
In the last three years, North Sanpete increased their season win total from three to seven to 12, despite turnover in players graduating. The Hawks deal with the departure of five seniors, notably longtime key players Shawn Taylor and Keegan Eliason.
Christensen shows a great deal of faith in great things to come, particularly the seniors showing up in the outfield.
Still playing in Region 15, North Sanpete plays a tough baseball region, particularly Richfield and Grand. “All the teams in our region are pretty decent baseball schools,” Christensen said. “We’ll see tough competition all the way through.”
Pitching remains a question mark for the Hawks this year, Christensen said, with Zane Tibbs being the predicted starter in his senior season. On the batting side, seniors Tyler Hadley and David Serba project to bring the hitting power.
Last week, the Hawks posted a 1-0 record to start the season with a wild win over rival Delta, 13-5, in 14 innings. The leftover winter of the Sanpete valley led to the Delta visit being the first time the Hawks would practice outside this season, Christensen said.
After the first seven innings ended with a 3-3 tie, the Hawks pulled ahead 5-3 before getting tied up by Delta in the 13th inning. Then, the Hawk bats stormed to life out of nowhere to shut the game down with an eight-run inning.
North Sanpete is scheduled to play in the Chuckwagon Classic in Kanab this weekend with games against Beaver, Kanab, Enterprise, and a rematch against Delta.
When all was said and done, the Templars 10-16 record in 2018 may not look spectacular, but their success was well-timed.
The Templars overcame an early seven-game losing streak and turned a 4-13 near-end season record into a postseason surprise, winning three of their last four and shocking everyone to win three postseason games, getting all the way to the 3A quarterfinals before being ousted by eventual champion Grantsville.
Something about Manti sports and unexpected playoff runs seemed to go together in 2018. It was made that much sweeter when every single opponent the Templars took down was a team that beat them in the regular season, making for a gratifying revenge tour.
This year, the Templars graduated seven seniors from the 2018 season, and look to capitalize on the return of big hitter now senior Adam Huff.
The Templars will play in the Chuckwagon Classic this weekend after their season started at home against North Sevier. Their opponents in the Classic are Kanab, Delta, American Leadership, and Beaver, in that order.
There isn’t enough that can be said about Gunnison’s prowess on the diamond, and the Bulldogs continue to look like one of the top dogs in baseball this season.
Already ranked No. 2 by Deseret News in 2A baseball, the Bulldogs reloaded after a hangover year from the 2017 championship season which saw Gunnison make a second-round exit in the playoff at the hands of Kanab. The Bulldogs ended their season with a 22-7 overall record, including an 11-1 bulldozing of their region.
Gunnison showed off strong capability at the plate last season, posting 15 games of 10 runs or more, including three games where they eclipsed 20 runs. The Bulldogs went on a mid-season tear where they posted seven straight games with double-digit scoring.
The Bulldogs are led at the mound by senior pitcher Parx Bartholomew who has showcased strong pitching ability for Gunnison every year of his high school career. Great things can be expected from Bartholomew.
The Bulldogs started the season off strong last week in the Tiger-Panther Classic with wins over 4A Logan and 4A Union, 2-0 and 4-0 respectively, but suffered some setbacks against big-school competition, falling 9-6 to 4A Green Canyon and going down big against 3A Richfield, 15-7. Bartholomew and Jansen Keisel split the early-season shutouts.
The Bulldogs will continue their season in the Chuckwagon Classic in Kanab, facing American Leadership, Richfield, Morgan and South Sevier last weekend.
Last year, the Lady Hawks scored 50 runs in their first three games, and the rest of the season looked almost just as good. In 2019, North Sanpete softball begins on a higher perch.
After a spectacular 21-5 season fell short in a second-round exit, North Sanpete starts the new season ranked No. 3 in 3A softball per Deseret News and a plethora of returning talent. Only two seniors, Lexie Olson and Laynie Gillins, left the program.
“We have high expectations this year for our softball team,” Head Coach Landon Bailey said. “We had a very successful year last year, and many of our main pieces are back again this season. If we play like we are capable of, we should hopefully finish as one of the top teams in the state.”
In the minds of young players who saw success early, Bailey is doing his best to keep these girls hungry. “I’ve been reminding the girls that just because we were successful last year doesn’t mean anything for this season. We need to work even harder this year and be ready because 3A has a bunch of very tough teams that could all be there in the end.”
The Lady Hawks look primed to keep things going with their fiery offense. North Sanpete ended last season on an offensive tear, scoring double-digit runs in 10 of their final 11 games, including a 24-2 rainstorm against Delta in the first round of the playoffs.
While the scoring projects consistency, the pitching game, which allowed a great deal of runs, figures to promise improvement with all starting pitchers returning.
The Lady Hawks are well into their season with an early 3-2 record. Warming up with a smack down of Desert Hills, 15-0, North Sanpete went 2-1 in the March Warm-up Elite with a 4-2 loss to 5A Roy and a 10-7 victory over Desert Oasis, Nev. They then dropped a contest against 5A Maple Mountain, 7-5, and beat Idaho Falls, Idaho, 10-3.
The Lady Hawks continued their season against Richfield last week and are schedule to host Grantsville tomorrow.
North Sanpete has tough competition for the 3A title this year, and it’s right on their doorstep.
The Lady Templars made waves last year in the latter end of the season with a run in the playoffs to get to the 3A quarterfinals and made it several games into the one-loss bracket, including a victory over North Sanpete. Now their momentum has led to a No. 5 ranking by Deseret News at the beginning of the season.
Manti had a bewildering 2018 season when they not only started 0-5, but they were also shut out in four of their first five games. Then, midway through the Dixie Tournament, Manti crushed 30 runs in two games to get on the winning side of the conversation. They went 13-5 over the rest of the regular season.
In the playoffs, Manti posted impressive wins over Morgan and Grand but fell short in another shutout against Grantsville. After staying alive in the one-loss bracket, they were ousted by Union.
This year, despite graduating six seniors, the Lady Templars look to be in good shape with a strong senior class featuring Lexie Alder, Jentry Young, and Tyra Hermansen.
Manti is well into their season and look awfully good with a strong showing at the Jones Paint & Glass Spring Showdown, posting a stunning 13-1 victory over 6A Syracuse and notching victories against 5A squads Brighton, 19-1 and Springville, 3-2 in eight innings. The Lady Templars’ only blemish in the tournament was an 11-1 letdown against Wasatch.
Manti continues the season hosting a doubleheader against Grand this Friday starting at 3:30 p.m.
So begins the defense of the crown.
In consecutive years, Gunnison has claimed championships on the diamond with the 2017 baseball title and Gunnison softball’s 2018 3A championship victory over Enterprise, 12-2. The joyful drama encircled Head Coach Tyson Brackett’s squad as they captured their first title in almost four decades, led by a phenomenal performance from his daughter, Emily.
“It’s a good day for Gunnison. It’s a great day, and it’s a moment these girls, and a lot of other people won’t soon forget,” Brackett said last year after the victory.
Emily was a strong leader for the Bulldogs in 2018, but the reason why Gunnison is ranked No. 1 in Deseret News ranking for 2A softball may have something to do with her as well: the fact that she was the only one who graduated.
Besides her, the Lady Bulldogs return their entire squad from that magical run. Halle Bjerragaard and Paige King figure to lead out in a quest to defend the title and bring home another in 2019.
Gunnison faces a tough slate full of opponents who don’t care how good they were last season. Despite the talent, the Lady Bulldogs have face somewhat of a rocky start this year, dropping their first two games to South Summit and Spanish Fork, 5-2 and 12-0, respectively.
They will continue their season this week with a game today against Pine View and participate this weekend in the Warrior Elite Softball Tournament at Snow Canyon High School, facing 5A Farmington, 4A Snow Canyon, and 6A squads Murray and Clearfield.