It seems like the story was the same last year — Region 4 baseball is sick.
Not sick as in poor, but sick as in wickedly talented. Coaches, in describing the upcoming season, are using the terms "brutal," "awesome," "nauseous" and "loaded."
Simply put, every game is going to be a battle between the best Utah prep baseball has to offer. The four teams that advance to postseason from this year will each be capable of going home with a state title.
"I'm nervous to play anybody," Pleasant Grove coach Ryan Hall said. "There will be no cake-walks. There's no team I want to play, because they're all that good."
Last year, the Region 4 teams that didn't make the playoffs were good enough to qualify for postseason in almost every other region. And this season, the two teams left out of postseason are likely going to be a lot better. From top to bottom, there really isn't much separating the teams in talent. They all have good pitching, all have good hitting and all have above-average fielders. And every team is deep.
"We haven't finished worse than second in region in all the years I've coached, but this year it might happen, and we have a pretty darn good team," Spanish Fork coach Jim "Shoe" Nelson said. "What a nightmare region."
With the league using the back-to-back scheduling format, where teams will play the same opponent twice in a week, pitching depth will likely be the difference.
"I think teams are going to see good pitching every where they go," American Fork coach Jarod Ingersoll said.
The team that seems to have a little edge in pitching, and experience, is Pleasant Grove. Lefty Egan Smith is considered the region's top thrower, since he was one of the best last year as a junior. Lone Peak has several pitchers back, and Spanish Fork has the young phenom brothers — sophomore Brock Duke and freshman Adam Duke. But Timpanogos, American Fork and Mountain View match up with every team in hitting.
With every team filled with contact hitters, the final determining factor might be defense. Teams that give up the fewest extra outs should have an advantage and should steal a few games where their opponents don't play quite as well in the field.
"When you play every night against teams like Timpanogos, Pleasant Grove and Lone Peak, you better come to the ballpark ready to play or you're going to get beat," Lone Peak coach Danny Schoonover said.
PLEASANT GROVE VIKINGS
COACH: Ryan Hall, fourth year
LAST YEAR: 17-9, third in Region 4
OUTLOOK: The Vikings are the league's most experienced team, returning six starters, and they're strong in every category — pitching depth, hitting depth and defense. "This is a good group of kids. We've got good pitching, we field the ball pretty good and we have guys who can hit it from one through nine in the order," Hall said.
TOP HITTERS:Tyson Weber, Sr.; Jake Rickenbach, Sr.; Devin Walker, Sr.; Braden Frampton, Sr.; Riley White, Jr.
TOP DEFENDERS: Rickenbach, INF; Walker, C; Colby Whiteley, Sr.; INF; Tyson Keetch, Sr.; OF
TOP PITCHERS:Egan Smith, Sr., LH; Heath Stevenson, Sr., RH; White, RH; Rickenbach, RH
PREDICTED 2007 REGION FINISH: First
LONE PEAK KNIGHTS
COACH: Danny Schoonover, eighth year
LAST YEAR: 11-12, third in Region 4
OUTLOOK: The Knights are the league's second most-experienced team, returning a bundle of good hitters and several quality throwers. Defense will be the key to whether the Knights advance to postseason or not. "We can't kick the ball around and compete with the teams we're going to be playing in this region," Schoonover said.
TOP HITTERS:Max Harris, Sr.; Nate Newman, Sr.; Brenden Smith, Sr.; Spencer Reiber, Sr.
TOP DEFENDERS: Taft Rasmussen, Sr., INF; Steve Beck, Sr.; OF; Brennan Holmstead, Jr., INF; Chase Cook, Jr., OF
TOP PITCHERS:Daniel Welch, Sr., LH; Daniel Sechrest, Jr., RH; Pete Sundwall, Sr., RH; Bryon Powell, Sr., RH
PREDICTED 2007 REGION FINISH: Second
SPANISH FORK DONS
COACH: Jim "Shoe" Nelson, 22nd year
LAST YEAR: 20-3, first in Region 4, state champions
OUTLOOK: The Dons lost a lot of starters but also have a lot of very good underclassmen who will only get better. They should send a fairly solid batting order to the plate but might struggle some defensively. "I still think we're going to have a lot better pitching than people think. We have some kids who are throwing pretty well," Nelson said.
TOP HITTERS:Rhett Nielsen, Sr.; Jason Binks, Sr.; Tyler Barney, Sr.; Brock Duke, So.; Gentry Mitchell, Jr.
TOP DEFENDERS: Barney, C; B. Duke, INF; Damon Ward, Jr., INF; John Wessel, Sr., OF
TOP PITCHERS: B. Duke, So., RH; Devon Nelson, Jr., RH: Selby Brummett, Jr.; RH; Tyler Hanks, Jr., RH: Adam Duke, Fr., RH
PREDICTED 2007 REGION FINISH: Third
COACH: Kim Nelson, 25th year, 11th at Timpanogos
LAST YEAR: 10-8, fifth in Region 4
OUTLOOK: The T-Wolves have the league's top hitting team, and with a load of speedy base runners they should score plenty of pressure on opposing defenses. They should also field the ball well, which will help an inexperienced and young pitching staff. The T-Wolves play with a lot of emotion and will need a good start to region play.
TOP HITTERS:Brett Lopez, Jr.; Robby Carter, Sr.; Nash Fowler, Sr.; Taylor Lyons, Jr.; Christian Stewart, Jr.
TOP DEFENDERS: Lopez, INF; Fowler, OF; Carter, OF; Lyons, OF; Jordan Cooper, Jr., INF
TOP PITCHERS: Fowler, RH; Rhett Nelson, So, RH; Gentry Croft, Jr., RH; Jordan DeLisel, Sr., RH
PREDICTED 2007 REGION FINISH: Fourth
AMERICAN FORK CAVEMEN
COACH: Jarod Ingersoll, fifth year
LAST YEAR: 14-8, first in Region 4
OUTLOOK: The Cavemen's strength is likely to be offense, where they have a host of contact hitters. They also have one of the league's hardest throwers and a few other capable arms. But those pitchers won't be effective unless the Cavemen play good defense behind them. "We have to play solid defense to compete in this region," Ingersoll said.
TOP HITTERS:Jake Murphy, Jr.; Taylor Mangum, Sr.; Cory Draper, Sr.; Gentry Haws, Jr.
TOP DEFENDERS:Andy Lewis, Sr., INF; Ryan Payne, Jr., C; Tanner Christensen Jr., OF; Jace Whatcott, Sr., INF
TOP PITCHERS: Mangum, RH; Haws, RH; Zach Laycock, Sr., RH: Josh Mooney, So., RH
PREDICTED 2007 REGION FINISH: Fifth
MOUNTAIN VIEW BRUINS
COACH: Chris Cooper, ninth year
LAST YEAR: 5-11, sixth in Region 4
OUTLOOK: The Bruins have a very solid hitting team and might catch a few teams off guard with their ability to explode offensively. The question mark will be pitching and defense. Without a true ace and no strike-out pitchers, they'll have to become an excellent fielding team. "We need to play well for a full seven innings, and not just a few innings," Cooper said.
TOP HITTERS:Marcus Draper, Jr.; Mark Garrett, Jr.; Trent Call, Sr.; Collin Mangum, Sr.
TOP DEFENDERS: Chad Gonzales, Jr., INF; Caleb Loveland, Jr., OF; Sam Roden, Jr., INF; Ronnie Strauss, Sr., INF
TOP PITCHERS:Danny Nelson, Sr., RH; Cameron Schmidt, Jr., RH; Draper
PREDICTED 2007 REGION FINISH: Sixth