It’s been a year since Pleasant Grove came within a run of completing the most remarkable run in state 5A history, when the Vikings lost their first-round tournament game and came all the way back to reach the state championship game before falling to Jordan 4-3.
Now 5A’s top-ranked team will have a chance to take care of some unfinished business when the Vikings host Davis on Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the first round of the state 5A baseball tournament.
“There are a lot of really good teams this year but we’re excited and we’re ready to get going and take care of our unfinished business,” said Pleasant Grove coach Darrin Henry. “I told our guys the difference between last year and this year is we’ve learned who we are. We’ve put in a lot of hard work and now it’s time to reap the benefits.”
This year Pleasant Grove has played with a fury. The Vikings started off the season 16-0 and were ranked as high as No. 6 in the country by USA Today before they lost 2-of-3 to Lone Peak. They won the Region 4 title with a 16-2 record (22-2 overall) and as a result earned a home playoff game against Davis (14-10), a fourth seed from Region 1.
“The Lone Peak series helped us a lot. You never really know what your weaknesses are when you’re winning, so as much as you hate to lose, I think it was a good thing for us,” Henry said. “We have a deeper pitching staff with essentially the same hitters as we had last year. For us the key will be our pitching and our timely hitting.”
Pleasant Grove finished the regular season with a .375 team batting average and a team ERA of 2.70 ERA.
Henry said he isn’t sure if he will start Logan Carlson or Easton Walker against Davis. Carlson has better numbers (5-0, 1.72 ERA) on the year but Walker (6-0, 3.36 ERA) has been dialed in recently and has been the team’s ace for the past two years.
“Both of those guys have had wonderful years,” Henry said. “Easton has been more like himself for the last couple of games. He had 15 Ks and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against Westlake, and he had nine Ks and gave up two hits against Lehi.”
If Pleasant Grove avoids an upset, the Vikings will host the winner of the Hillcrest/Jordan game on Wednesday. Following Wednesday’s action, the tournament resumes at Kearns High School on Monday.
Here’s a look at other first-round matchups in 5A involving Utah Valley teams.
Northridge (17-7) at Lone Peak (17-7)
Lone Peak is the only team in Region 4 that won every three-game series, and based on the strength of a dangerous offense along with the pitching of Seth Corry (5-1, 2.20 ERA), RJ Hazen (5-1, 1.92) and Brooks Goeckeritz (4-1, 2.94 ERA), the Knights should be a difficult out.
“When we come out and play a good game, can play with anyone,” said Lone Peak coach Matt Bezzant. “Whoever plays best baseball from here on out will win it. PG probably heavy favorite but you never know what will happen.”
Lone Peak finished second in Region 4 and is responsible for handing Pleasant Grove its only two losses of the year.
"Honestly I don’t know much about them other than they weren’t in the playoffs last year and they have the same record as we do,” Bezzant said of Northridge. “I feel like our defense has been solid all year but our offense has been up or down. One game we scored 12 runs against a team’s ace and next game we will have four or five hits against a team’s No. 2 guy. Sometimes we become a little lackadaisical when we think we’re better than a team.”
Hazen, a senior right-hander, should get the start against Northridge. If the Knights win Corry figures to start in the second round where baring a major upset, they would face Bingham (22-3), who was 15-0 in region play
American Fork (18-7) at Viewmont (15-7)
Viewmont upset Pleasant Grove in the first round last year, now the Vikings will be on guard to make sure they aren’t the victim of a first-round upset at the hands of American Fork.
Fremont and Viewmont both finished Region 1 with a 13-5 record, but the Vikings lost the tiebreaker, so they will enter the tournament as a No. 2 seed even though they have won six of their past seven games.
American Fork finished third in Region 4 and begins the playoffs with a five-game winning streak.
“We’ll have our hands full and we’ll need to have a lot of bounces go our way to have a chance,” said American Fork coach Jarod Ingersoll. “I know they have a couple pretty good pitchers. We played them last year and I know they have a couple big bats in their lineup and they have a couple of speed guys.”
If American Fork gets past Viewmont, the Cavemen will play the winner of the Cottonwood/West Jordan game.
“Our pitching needs to work ahead in the count and we can’t give up walks and we’ve got to get some two-out hits,” Ingersoll said. “In the games we’ve lost, we had the table set but couldn’t get the key hit when we needed it.”
Lehi (13-13) at Fremont (19-6)
Lehi has already made school history by qualifying for the state 5A tournament for the first time, but this group isn’t satisfied yet – the Pioneers believe there is more work to be done.
“This has been a pretty exciting year for our program but we’re not content with just getting in the tournament, we think we can compete and contend,” said Lehi coach Jason Ingersoll. “Our pitchers are healthy and we’re ready to go.”
Lehi finished tied with Riverton for the fourth playoff spot in Region 4 and then beat the Silverwolves in a play-in game to earn the right to play Fremont, the Region 1 champs.
Ingersoll will give the ball to sophomore pitcher Jason James (4-2) on Tuesday and will likely use Drew Zimmerman (4-2), another sophomore, to start on Wednesday when Lehi will play wither Taylorsville or Copper Hills.
“For us to have a chance we will have to defend and we have to put the ball in play,” Ingersoll said. “This year we’ve had a hard time coming up with a big inning we will need to string some hits to together for our pitchers.”
In his 33 years as a head coach, there has been a 162-game season's worth of tough losses, and there have been a half-dozen years when Kim Nelson’s teams walked off the field at the end of the season a winner.
Nelson has won six state championships as a head coach (four at Timpanogos), and in his 18 years at Timpanogos he’s led the T’Wolves to the playoffs in every year but one, so it’s no surprise he took a group of inexperienced players with little varsity baseball knowledge and turned them into valedictorians.
Timpanogos returned just one fulltime starter from last year’s team that finished fourth in Region 7, and complied an 18-7 overall record and in the process won region title.
“Over the last four or five years we turned over a bunch of seniors, but this year we had pretty much a whole new group. We’ve mostly had a group of juniors and sophomores step up and contribute,” Nelson said. “I knew we’d get better, but it has surprised me just how much better we’ve played.”
Oakley Craghead (6-1) and Tyler Cornish (4-3) have given the T’Wolves an effective combination on the mound.
Nelson said he will start Craghead when Timpanogos hosts Provo on Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the first round of the state 4A tournament.
“No one in their lineup is really a threat to hit it out of the yard, but they’ve got guys who can put it in play,” Nelson said. “They don’t have one really dominating guy on the mound, but they have guys who are good enough to beat us if they have a good day.”
The Bulldogs (13-12) earned the fourth and final playoff spot from Region 8 and with wins over teams like Spanish Fork and Maple Mountain, and they believe they can pull off a first-round upset.
“Timpanogos has historically been solid in state tournament. They’re not going to beat themselves. They don’t have a really big arm like they have had in the past, so they’re a lot like us in that way,” said Provo coach Lance Moore. “We have to utilize some of our teams speed and we need to pitch better. In our series against Spanish Fork we did that, but that’s not something we did against Salem Hills.”
Moore said he’s undecided on who he will start between Trapper Denton, Max Hoopes or Jack Rhineer and said he could use all three.
Orem (16-8) at Spanish Fork (10-12)
After a seven-year state tournament absence, Orem is back in the playoffs. The Tigers, who were 3-9 last year, had a breakout year under first-year coach Carl Hermansen.
Orem had a chance to win the Region 7 title heading into its final series against rival Timpanogos, but got swept, and as a result finished up as a third seed.
“It will be a huge challenge for us because everyone knows to advance or to win 4A you usually have to go through Spanish Fork, but we’re excited for the challenge,” Hermansen said. “I hope they understand that when we play our best baseball we can beat anyone.”
Orem, who won nine straight games to put itself in a position to play for the region title, will start Paxton Schultz (8-1), while Spanish Fork will counter with lefty Tanner Nielsen (3-1).
“We have the worst record in the state tournament in 4A, but I know how tough of a schedule we’ve played and I have confidence in our guys,” said Spanish Fork coach Gub Nielsen. “We’ve had some growing pains but I’ve seen their confidence level slowly increase during the season.”
Spanish Fork won six of its last eight region games and finished in second place in Region 8 with a 9-3 record.
“I think we have good pitching depth but I think we’re a lot like everyone else in 4A,” Nelson said.
“There isn’t a dominant pitcher so we need to play defense and limit the opportunities of our opponents when they have baserunners.”
Whoever wins will get the winner of the Roy/Woods Cross game.
Maple Mountain (16-9) at Skyline (16-9)
Maple Mountain lost three of its last four region games to slip into third place and out of contention for the Region 8 title. Now the Golden Eagles will have a date with Skyline, which tied with Orem for third place in Region 7 with an 8-4 record.
Skyline was 4-0 against Timpanogos and Orem, but couldn’t sweep any of the other teams in the region.
“We kind of expected to play them, so we’ve been scouting them. We played them in the second round last year and they return many of their same players,” said Maple Mountain coach Gary Miner. “We feel like pitching will be the least of our concerns. We feel like we’ve got good arms, when we don’t get in the way of ourselves we can be pretty good.”
Miner said he will start Tyson Ellis, a sophomore who is 5-2 against Skyline and Dallin Peterson (4-4) will start on Wednesday when the Golden Eagles play either Mountain Crest or Kearns.
Olympus (14-10) at Salem Hills (22-3)
Salem Hills comes into the tournament on a seven-game winning streak where the Skyhawks have averaged nearly 10 runs per game. Salem Hills shares the best overall record in 4A with Woods Cross, so Olympus knows just how difficult it will be to topple Salem Hills.
But the Titans have pitcher Eli Falk (6-2) who is capable of beating anyone in 4A so Salem Hills will be on upset alert
“We know their pitcher (Falk) is good so we’ll have to come to play. We’re not taking anyone lightly. Our goal is to stay in the winner’s bracket so we’ll do anything we can to make sure that happens,” said Salem Hills coach Scott Haney. “The key for us is we need to have our pitchers throw strikes. We have some good hitters in our lineup but we can’t have three guys take the day off. We need all nine guys to contribute.”