BOUNTIFUL — Bountiful High sees diamonds — of the ball field variety — in its future. Its baseball and softball teams each return experienced players next season to build upon what's been started.
The Braves softball squad finished the spring with a 17-8 record overall and a sterling 13-1 mark in Region 5.
They were region co-champs with eventual state champion Murray but lasted only three games into the double-elimination state tournament. Both their pitching and hitting were "solid" until state, said coach Kelly Anderson, but lack of offense determined the early exit. The team accomplished its three preseason goals: winning the region, making the state playoffs and winning at least one state playoff game.
"This team ranks up there with the best Bountiful softball teams in the program's 35 years," he said. There's a lot of leadership, and the future's bright."
With a solid nucleus of experienced players returning, "it's a chance to build on what's already been done and take a step forward."
The Bountiful boys ended their season on a three-game winning streak, which, said coach Clark Stringfellow, "was huge for us" in building momentum for next year.
They finished their "rebuilding year" at 6-16 and 3-11. While getting into the state playoffs is always the goal, said the coach, winning games and working hard was most important. Even with the "hard losses," this season's objective was to find positions for every player.
Returning players for Stringfellow include "a bunch of sophomores who did real well," said the coach. For example, utility outfielder Nick Morrell sat out his sophomore season in 2004 after transferring from Viewmont High and subsequently led the Braves in almost every statistical category this year.
Other standout Braves are Eric Hunter, Jason Freckleton, Matt Winslow, Alan Beal and Joe Lalli. Sophomore-to-be first baseman Lalli led the team in defensive stats and "hit pretty good for us," said Stringfellow. Beal, a junior, pitched for a couple of saves besides playing third base. Left-handed sophomore pitcher Winslow pitched the most innings and won two games for Bountiful. Freckleton, a junior catcher, is also the quarterback on Bountiful's football team and leads the baseball team, too. Junior shortstop Hunter, who batted around .355, "was a very strong part of the infield and did a real good job for us," said Stringfellow.
The strength of the Braves softball team in 2005 was pitching, said Anderson. Junior Stephanie Holmes and Jessie Martin, a freshman, "had pretty good command (of the ball) and hit their spot, for the most part." Martin was better at placement, while Holmes probably threw in the high 50s or low 60s (mph), which equates to a baseball thrown at 80 mph.
But Bountiful's hallmark tradition of great defense isn't just limited to its pitchers. The Bountiful girls lose three seniors — centerfielder Erin Wall, catcher Katie Weese and Rachel Toone, second basemen — who've all started mostly since they were sophomores. They're all great defenders, Anderson said. Weese "is the toughest catcher around."
Leadoff hitter Toone hit around .400, said the coach, which "makes her so valuable" and is as good as any in the state at second base. Junior Robin Wall led the team in hitting with .460, while Weese batted around .440. Wall was about .417 and Kylie Flannery was over .400. Stephanie Jesse batted around .385.
"There's not many better hitters in the state than what we have," said Anderson. "I'd put them up against anybody."
But, at the state tournament, "we really struggled" with hitting, he said. "We didn't play like we did all year. It really fell off."
Bountiful, which has four region championships, finishes in the top three every year, the coach said. The team has won about half of its state tournament games.
Stringfellow said he stays involved with baseball during the summer by coaching an American Legion team. This year's squad is basically the one he just finished mentoring. The varsity prep league offers opportunities to use JV players to build a team, he said.
The coach utilizes the help of "a lot of parents" in American Legion and has helped build camaraderie through his contacts as an assistant Bountiful football coach.
In the off-season, Stringfellow, who doubles as a computer technology and business teacher, mentors baseball players in the weight room and in running, hitting, pitching and defense.
"I enjoy teaching and being part of young people's lives," he said. "They have so many decisions in life and so much to do."
The opportunity is "perfect for me," considering his "attitude and knowledge."
As a football assistant, "I've been truly blessed to work with good people like (coach) Larry Wall and (assistant) Phil Olsen. They're very knowledgeable in their lives and duties."