Cottonwood is gunning for its fourth consecutive state title, but this year may be a little different than its last two 4A championships.

"We are excited to meet the challenge," Colts coach Jon Hoover said. "But I think this year the target that was on our backs the last couple could be spread around a little bit. I think there are some teams out there that may be just as good as we are."

The Colts were clearly the most talented team entering the 2006 and '07 tournaments, but in the 2008 season, Cottonwood showed a vulnerability it never had before. The team lost its first game to a 4A opponent in its three years in the classification, and it struggled through a rough preseason. Even with a couple of dents in the armor, Cottonwood is still one of the favorites to win over the next two weeks.

"We know we can do it," Hoover said, "but we need some guys to step up like we've had in the past."

Kyle Beverley is a known commodity after he blasted seven home runs in last year's playoffs. But the Colts need players like Dalton Gust, Stephen Rodgers, Eric Doi and Ryan Thomas to elevate their performances as well. While Desmond Paulson, the team's best pitcher on the year, is out this week with a strained back, Kendall Mayer makes his return to the mound after missing action with tendinitis.

The two new teams entering the 4A tournament from St. George should be contenders. Dixie won the Region 9 first seed, and Pine View looked unbeatable for a while except when facing Dixie — Pine View was 18-4 with three of the losses coming to the Flyers.

"We're are excited and ready for the elevated competition," Panthers coach Jonathon Howell said. "We want to show that we are a top-level team and our program has been ready for the jump for a while."

Pine View was known mainly for its run scoring ability, but Howell said that has not been the biggest key to the team's success.

"We've had good balance," he said. "People look at our offensive numbers, but we have pitched it and played good defense as well."

The Panthers have been led by Nate and Marcus Littlewood. Paden Shelley, Austin Smith and Nick Marinko, and are expecting big things from them in the playoffs.

With so much balance in the classification, several other teams could make a run to a title. The field is wide open with teams like Cyprus, Dixie, Mountain View, Orem, Springville, Murray or Box Elder that could get hot for two weeks and ride that momentum to a title.