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High school baseball: MVPs led teams in many ways

It may seem like the four teams that won state baseball championships in the last month did so fairly easily, considering none of them had to play any second "if" games in their respective tournaments.

But that hardly means they weren't consistently pushed during state tournament play, and when games got dicey, the championship teams knew where to turn for difference-making plays. Whether it was a home run to ignite a rally, an overpowering pitching performance, alertly stealing home or being a workhorse, the Deseret News' MVP award winners came through when their teams needed them.

Lone Peak's Dillon Robinson, Spanish Fork's Adam Duke, Juan Diego's Kody Davis and San Juan's Nache Nielson deservedly earn MVP honors for the 2010 season. Each player spent at least one year as a varsity starter prior to the past season, and their experience paid off for them.

A look at each of their seasons:

5A MVP: Dillon Robinson, Lone Peak

He broke into the Knights' starting lineup at shortstop as a sophomore and steadily improved over the years.

Robinson, who has signed to play at BYU, had the breakout year he was looking to have as a senior, as he posted some ridiculous numbers. He may have been the state's toughest out in 2010, as he batted .532, blasted 10 home runs and ripped 14 doubles. He hit five of those doubles in back-to-back games against Pleasant Grove.

"He's a kid who got better and better each year — and then at the end of this season he got even better," said Lone Peak coach Mike LaHargoue.

Robinson did in fact raise his spectacular play to another level in the state tournament. He went 11-for-15 in the playoffs and closed three of the team's five victories. His solo home run in the sixth inning of Lone Peak's 5-4 win over Cottonwood in the 5A championship game was the momentum changer in that contest.

Pitching was something new to Robinson during his senior season, and he did a fine job as his team's closer.

"He has a great curveball," LaHargoue said. "He does a great job. He does a little bit of everything."

The Knights had to count on Robinson a little more than usual when they went through some injury troubles during the season. All-state outfielder Jacob Hannemann, pitcher Keyan Norman and outfielder Ryan Savage each missed time because of injuries. LaHargoue said he asked Robinson to be more aggressive at the plate with his team at less than full strength, and Robinson obliged.

His numbers show that.

4A MVP: Adam Duke, Spanish Fork

If any coach in the state could have one pitcher throw one must-win game for their team, there's no doubt that Duke would be the pick.

Duke was the state's most dominant pitcher in 2010. He recorded 100 strikeouts in 58 innings pitched while compiling a perfect 11-0 record. He threw a no-hitter against Salem Hills and was close to matching the feat a few other times during the season. He threw a one-hitter against Box Elder in the state tournament.

"He's obviously a stud pitcher — the best pitcher in the state," said Spanish Fork coach Jim "Shoe" Nelson.

Duke, who has signed to play at Oregon State and is Spanish Fork's all-time winningest pitcher, was scrutinized closely by Major League Baseball scouts during the season. As many as 20 scouted games he pitched, and Nelson said he handled the attention well.

"The way he handled the scrutiny was impressive," Nelson said.

Duke may have surprised scouts with his bat and overall play. He played three different positions when he didn't pitch — first base, second base and shortstop. He batted .419 with nine doubles and 29 RBIs.

In Spanish Fork's 4-3 win over Springville in the 4A championship game, Duke drove in the game-tying run in the seventh, and then won the game on the mound in the eighth.

"People know him as a pitcher, but he's an athlete," Nelson said. "He's a baseball player."

3A MVP: Kody Davis, Juan Diego

Perhaps no other player in the state was as much of a nuisance on the bases as Davis. And making the problem even worse for Juan Diego opponents was that Davis spent a lot of time there.

Davis batted .539 and had an extraordinary on-base percentage of .789. Davis, who either led off or batted early in the Soaring Eagle lineup, was the sparkplug for Juan Diego's offense as he stole a remarkable 27 bases.

"He was consistent all year long," said Juan Diego coach Troy Davis, Kody's father. "He gave opposing teams fits."

Davis was never more of a pain than in the 3A winners' bracket semifinals against Richfield. In the top of the first, he got on base and advanced to third. During a pause in action, Davis alertly stole home when the Wildcats didn't expect it to give the Soaring Eagle a 1-0 lead. Pinch-runner Corbyn Quintana did the exact same thing in the seventh to score the game-winning run in Juan Diego's 8-7 victory.

"Kody did that (stole bases at opportunistic times) a lot in summer leagues, but in the summer most of the time he did it was from second to third, not third to home," Troy Davis said. "That's something we teach them to do — look a base ahead, make a good judgment and let it fly."

Davis led Juan Diego in several offensive categories, including singles (25), doubles (11), batting average, stolen bases and runs scored (33). He hit three home runs.

Davis was also outstanding defensively at shortstop. He formed one of the state's top — and most athletic — middle infields with second baseman Yuto Kata.

2A MVP: Nache Nielson, San Juan

Nielson was simply a workhorse pitcher for San Juan. He led the state with 13 pitching victories. He threw a complete game against Parowan in the 2A winners' bracket semifinals and then threw another three innings in the Broncos' 3-1 state championship win over the Rams on just one day of rest.

Redemption was the theme of San Juan's baseball season after it gave up a 10-run lead and lost in the 2A championship game in 2009. Nielson, as a four-year starter, played an enormous role in changing the Broncos' fortunes. When he didn't pitch, he played catcher, and he was always a leader.

"Nobody else had played all four years, so they (Nielson's teammates) kind of looked up to him for that reason," said San Juan coach Mike Bowers.

They also counted on him. Nielson pitched in almost all of San Juan's big games. Bowers considered throwing him on no days rest in the winners' bracket final against Kanab but proved to make the right move by saving him a day. Nielson, as a pitcher, accounted for 13 of San Juan's 19 wins.

Nielson was an all-around standout for the Broncos. He put up big numbers at the plate, batting .500 with 10 doubles, six home runs and two triples.

"He leads quietly but carries a big stick," Bowers said. "He's a great hitter, great competitor — just awesome."