When the high school baseball season started back in March, Tooele and Stansbury hoped to compete for region and state championships before COVID-19 brought things to a halt.
However, the opportunity remains for each team to make a championship run, beginning this weekend. The American Legion 19U state tournament gets under way across the state, with 35 teams vying for a title-winning moment that eluded them this spring.
“We didn’t get a chance to play in the spring, so we’ll take advantage of this and treat it like a high school season,” Stansbury coach Jason Jones said. “It’s an important thing to play in a state tournament.”
Stansbury (9-3) edged Bountiful by a game for the top spot in region play, and earned the No. 6 seed in the state tournament. The Stallions will play host to No. 27 Cedar Valley, a team they would have faced in Region 10 had the high school season been completed. The best-of-three series begins Monday with games at 3:30 and 6 p.m., with an if-necessary game slated for Tuesday at 6 p.m.
“This will be the first time we’ve played them and the first time we’ll get to see them,” Jones said of the series against the Aviators. “It’ll be fun. I told the kids, this is the fun time, playing in the playoffs. This is what we play all season for.”
Stansbury, which won a tournament title in Cache County last month as part of its impressive summer, has been led by a powerful lineup and dominant pitching. Names such as Cayden Clark, Braydon Allie, Colton Sundloff, Gage Miller, Tyler Harris and Jace Carroll have filled the stat sheet for the Stallions. In region play, Stansbury outscored Bountiful, Farmington, Tooele, Roy, Ben Lomond and Viewmont by a combined tally of 97-53 — an average winning margin of nearly four runs per game.
“We thought we had a good chance, of course,” Jones said. “We had a lot of talent coming back with our junior and senior group. We knew it wouldn’t be easy with the teams that we played against — we had tough competition with Tooele, Farmington, Roy and Bountiful. They all gave us good games.”
Tooele (6-5) finished fourth in the region, and earned the No. 21 seed for the state tournament. The Buffaloes will travel to Washington County to face No. 12 Pine View in a three-game series that begins with two games on Friday. The third game will be played Saturday, if necessary.
“We didn’t get to play them in high school and we haven’t seen them this summer,” Tooele coach Nolan Stouder said of Pine View. “They’re always a competitive team.”
The Buffs started the summer with four consecutive victories, but have struggled to find their game since. They will have to try to resume their winning ways without the help of top pitcher Brett Porthan, who is currently playing in a collegiate league in preparation for his freshman season at Dixie State University.
“We’ve shown flashes,” Stouder said. “(Monday against Bountiful), we still had too many errors by far, but our at-bats and approaches at the plate looked better than they have in the past two or three weeks. We’re still trying to get in that groove and throw strikes on the mound. We’ve struggled with that all summer.”
Left-hander Jake Hervat will get the call for the first game of the series against the Panthers, with the rest of the pitching rotation still to be decided. The Buffs are looking to cut down on their fielding errors, and if they can do that, Stouder believes his team has a chance to make a run in the tournament.
“I like our team a lot, especially if we get clicking on all cylinders,” he said. “We’ve just got to get in that groove again. We’ve kind of limped into the playoffs after we were pretty clearly the best team in the region the first four or five games. I always like a matchup with our guys when they’re playing hard and doing it to the best of their abilities.”
The tournament begins with single-elimination games on Friday. No. 32 American Leadership Academy will face No. 33 North Cache fo the chance to play No. 1 Cache Valley in a best-of-three. The winner of Friday’s game between No. 31 Timpanogos and No. 34 Box Elder will play No. 2 Salem Hills, and the winner between No. 30 Maple Mountain and No. 35 Providence Hall will face No. 3 Lone Peak.
Other best-of-three matchups include: No. 4 Herriman and No. 29 Jordan; No. 5 Alta and No. 28 Lehi; No. 7 Hurricane and No. 26 Corner Canyon; No. 8 Taylorsville and No. 25 Morgan; No. 9 Vernal and No. 25 Ridgeline; No. 10 Mountain Crest and No. 23 Green Canyon; No. 11 Bountiful and No. 22 Bear River; No. 13 Pleasant Grove and No. 20 Wasatch; No. 14 Helper and No. 19 Mountain View; No. 15 Farmington and No. 18 American Fork; and No. 16 Logan and No. 17 West Jordan.
In the 17U tournament, Stansbury earned the No. 8 seed and will face No. 9 Wasatch at 3 p.m. Monday at Cedar City High School. Tooele is the No. 11 seed, and will play host to No. 22 Helper in a single-elimination game Thursday at 6 p.m. at Dow James Memorial Park, with the winner advancing to the double-elimination round Monday in southern Utah. The 15U state tournament will take place in Cache County.