On the surface, it may seem like the 4A baseball tournament will be lacking in drama because Spanish Fork is an overwhelming favorite to capture the state crown.
But there's still plenty of intrigue in the classification's postseason, which begins Tuesday with eight first-round games. Class 4A features a remarkable turnaround season in Bonneville, and two players likely to be selected in the early rounds of next month's Major League Baseball draft in Pine View shortstop Marcus Littlewood and Spanish Fork pitcher Adam Duke.
There's also a team that won its first region championship in school history in Woods Cross, a first-year school finishing above .500 and earning a tourney berth in Stansbury, teams that are back in 4A and looking to make a deep postseason run in Timpanogos and Lehi, and of course the team that's arguably the best in the state regardless of classification — Spanish Fork.
Another factor that makes 4A interesting is that there are five region champions in the state tournament — at least one more than any other classification. League champions Bonneville, Woods Cross, Timpanogos and Snow Canyon figure to be fairly closely matched behind Spanish Fork.
"I think it's very intriguing — no doubt about it," said first-year Bonneville coach Trevor Howell. "If you went to fill out your bracket today, I don't know if anyone could fill it out correctly."
Hardly anyone could have penciled in Bonneville for the season it had. The Lakers went from worst to first in Region 5, and improved by a whopping 15 wins. Bonneville, 4A's second-highest scoring team behind Spanish Fork, went unbeaten at home.
That's an important factor considering the Lakers open the tournament on their home diamond against Springville today.
"We're feeling good," Howell said. "We're proud of our accomplishments this year. We feel like we can hit it with anybody, so it's good to have that on our side."
Woods Cross enters the state tournament with some momentum on its side after winning the Region 6 championship. The Wildcats earned a two-game sweep over Olympus last week to claim their first league title, thanks to heroics from junior Austin Bankowski. Woods Cross opens the tournament against Mountain View.
"We feel like we're one of the most talented teams out here," Bankowski. "We feel like we can beat anybody at any time."
Box Elder will need to have that same mentality today. The Bees, who put together a quality 14-8 season, got no favors from the Utah High School Activities Association's predetermined brackets. They play at Spanish Fork in the first round today.
The Bees, however, shouldn't have much of an awe factor against the 20-1 Dons. The two teams played in a preseason tournament in St. George, and Box Elder hung in there for much of the game before losing, 11-5.
"If we can stay with them, anything can happen," said Bees coach Mike Hollingsworth.
That's certainly true of 4A's first and second round games today and tomorrow.
Reigning 4A champion Mountain Crest returns key contributors from last year and could make a run in the postseason after taking second place in Region 5. Timpanogos has greatly improved since the start of the season and is a dangerous team. St. George teams Snow Canyon and Pine View can't be overlooked in 4A after Dixie reached the state championship game the last two seasons. Provo showed it knows how to win in the tourney after taking third last year, and Salem Hills is a team to be reckoned with from Region 8.
It will take a mighty effort for anyone to knock off Spanish Fork during the tournament, though. The Dons have won 19 straight games and feature the state's top pitcher in Duke. Their pitching depth, as usual, is their strength as Hayden Nielsen, Matt Nelson and James Lengal are all quality hurlers.
4A baseball pairings
Tuesday, at home sites (4 p.m.)
Salem Hills (16-5) at Pine View (10-10)
Bountiful (10-11) at Timpanogos (16-6)
Springville (13-8) at Bonneville (18-4)
Mountain View (7-15) at Woods Cross (16-5)
Olympus (13-9) at Mountain Crest (18-4)
Provo (13-6) at Snow Canyon (13-8)
Box Elder (14-8) at Spanish Fork (20-1)
Stansbury (12-10) at Lehi (15-7)