While last week brought some unexpected snow shoveling, the coming week hopes to bring fresh dirt and cut grass as our local schools prepare to usher in the 2022 high school baseball season.
Manti, North Sanpete and Gunnison Valley will each begin their baseball seasons between Tuesday and Friday. While the season promises to be competitive, particularly with new opponents from realignment, the local schools are geared up to compete with the best.
Here’s our first look at each squad entering the first week of the season.
GUNNISON—If all goes well for the Bulldogs this season, viewers may refer to them as something they’ve not been called in a long time: underrated.
Gunnison Valley baseball bears fewer expectations this year than they usually do statewide, being unincluded in the Deseret News preseason Top 5 for 2A. Their new region foe, former 3A South Sevier, is the only ranked team in the 2A East at No. 5, as the 2A West projects to be stacked with power.
The Bulldogs finished their first season under coach Max Sanders with a 22-3 overall record, taking the 2A East region title before falling short in the semifinals against the 2A state runner-up in Parowan. In the one-loss bracket, Gunnison fell hard, 13-2, in their third rematch of the season to Beaver, who busted through the bracket to play in and eventually win the 2A state championship.
Much of the perceived limitation of the perennially-strong Bulldogs is in their graduations from last year, most notably the former 2A MVP in pitcher Janzen Kiesel, who is currently starting games as a freshman at BYU. Of the nine players with 10+ RBI last season, seven of them graduated.
Although unconfirmed by Sanders, who did not respond to requests for comment, the Bulldogs figure to be led by senior Tate King, who was the best RBI-getter on the team other than Kiesel last year. Gunnison also brings back junior Jake Sorensen, who had 22 RBI last year.
The Bulldogs are the last team in the county to begin, but they’ll be playing a lot in a small amount of time. Starting Friday, Gunnison will take on Delta, Parowan, Duchesne and Grand in the Delta Tournament in Delta. They’ll then face Morgan, Judge Memorial, Summit Academy, and Kanab in the Chuckwagon Classic in Kanab next weekend. Their first home game will be on March 22, a region home game against South Sevier.
MANTI—The Templars were one of the most pleasant surprises in 3A at the end of last season.
Entering the 3A state championship tournament with an 8-10 overall record and 3-6 in region play, Manti baseball fell into the one-loss bracket in the first round, but they held strong from there and played their way just short of the semifinals in an impressive playoff run.
The Templars enter their new season with plenty of optimism. They also enter it with a new coach following the retirement of Jim Nelson. Former assistant coach and Snow College pitcher Bryan Keisel now takes the reins at his alma mater, where he started for four years and was a state champion and state MVP in 1996.
“Our playoff run last year was incredible for the young men involved,” Keisel said. “It goes to show that getting hot at the right time in baseball is huge. As to how we can use that success in the playoffs to build upon for the beginning of the season, it gave many of our athletes experience in playing in pressure-type situations. It also provides us with a shot of confidence to show that we can play with anyone in 3A.”
Manti brings back only four seniors this year in Isaac Schoppe, A.J. Cox, Karson Parry and Carter Stevenson. “All four of these seniors are terrific young men and bring a lot of leadership to our program,” Keisel said. “As we are young, we look to these four seniors to lead us into battle this year.”
Cox figures to be a keystone of the Manti offense after he was the third-best player on the team in RBI last season with 16. All other seniors combined had fewer than 10.
Manti begins their season this Tuesday on the road against Emery, weather permitting. They’ll be tested early with games at home against ranked teams Enterprise and Richfield next Friday and Tuesday, respectively. Manti will then play Beaver, Summit Academy, Morgan, and Kanab in the Chuckwagon Classic in Kanab next weekend.
MT. PLEASANT—It’s a season of new beginnings in Mt. Pleasant as the Hawks enter the spring with fresh optimism and a fresh new coach.
North Sanpete baseball’s days under head coach Dan Christensen have ended, as Christensen retired from coaching last spring. The Hawks finished last season with an 8-17 overall record, one of their best seasons in the Christensen era. They lost in the first round of the state championship tournament, and ended their season with a second-round loss to Emery in the one-loss bracket when a furious comeback of eight runs in the final inning to take a lead was spoiled when Emery scored two more runs to end the game.
With Christensen retired, former assistant coach Austin Hadley, son of athletic director Cheryl Hadley, takes over for the program after being on staff with multiple sports teams for the Hawks through the years, including this year’s basketball team and the softball team.
“I hope I can bring the learning experiences I’ve had in other sports to baseball,” Hadley said. “I’ve also had some good coaching mentors. [Christensen] has been great helping me get transitioned to being head coach. Coaches Bill Pollock and Landon Bailey are always willing to answer questions about coaching, running a program and working with kids. I’ve got a good group of assistant coaches to help me out as well. I’m very excited to see what we can do in the coming years.”
Between last year and the year before, North Sanpete looks to be trending in the right direction after doubling their win total in 2021. “It gave our guys some confidence and experience that will benefit them this season,” Hadley said. “The way the last game ended left a bitter taste for the guys involved and has helped their motivation. We’ve got a group of seniors that have seen success in other programs.”
North Sanpete returns five seniors in Hunter Price, Brayden Olson, Xander Shelley, and Kylan and Porter Taylor. While Kylan returns to the mound with a 3-1 record from last year, Price figures to be the leader from the plate after notching 16 total RBI last season.
The Hawks begin their season at home against Providence Hall this Tuesday and will have a three-game road trip against Emery, 5A Timpview, and North Sevier on Friday, Saturday, and Monday, respectively. They’ll then take on Summit Academy, the JV team of 4A Desert Hills, Providence Hall (again), and Beaver in the Chuckwagon Classic in Kanab.