PROVIDENCE — When brothers Spenser and Shawn Triplett were young baseball players, they looked up to fellow Cache Valley brothers Jed and Jory Jensen, who both competed at the Division I level for Utah Valley University more than 10 years ago.
Jory and Jed ended up coaching Shawn and Spenser, and the two sets of brothers eventually played together during the summer at the semi-professional level for the Providence Wolverines. Fittingly enough, the Tripletts have followed in the footsteps of the Jensens, in addition to blazing their own paths.
In fact, Spenser and Shawn Triplett are the first set of local brothers to earn the opportunity to play Division I baseball since the Jensens. Spenser just completed his eligibility at UVU, while Shawn has signed with Western Athletic Conference power Grand Canyon.
“It’s for sure cool,” Shawn said. “I don’t know if either of us would be in the same situation without Jed and Jory helping us when we were younger because they’ve definitely helped turn us into the players we are now.”
Like his older brother, Shawn paid his dues at the junior college level and developed into a D-I prospect. The Providence native is coming off a big super sophomore season at JUCO powerhouse South Mountain Community College, where he garnered first-team all-conference and all-region honors, plus was named a second-team All-American.
In his third season with the Cougars, the hard-throwing right-handed pitcher led his conference in saves with 11. Shawn didn’t allow an earned run until the final day of the regular season on his way to a very impressive 1.11 ERA. No. 29 tied for first on his team in appearances (18) and struck out 44 batters, vs. only eight walks, in 32.1 innings on the mound.
Shawn had what South Mountain head coach Todd Eastin called some small D-I opportunities after the COVID-19 shortened season of 2020, but “decided to bet on himself” and come back for a super sophomore campaign. All NCAA and NJCAA athletes from last spring were given an extra year of eligibility.
Needless to say, the decision paid of for Shawn, who was a second-team all-state selection as a senior for Ridgeline in 2018.
“You love it when you see a guy that bets on his own ability and doesn’t just settle for something, and it pays off big time with a good scholarship at a good Division I school,” said Eastin of Shawn, who went 3-0 this past season and limited opponents to a paltry .162 batting average.
During his first sophomore season, Shawn pitched 12.1 innings and made 10 appearances on the bump for SMCC. The 6-foot, 198-pounder struck out 10, finished with a 2-1 record, plus an ERA of 2.19.
“The COVID year, I would say I was a pretty average pitcher down there,” Shawn said. “I would get some outs, but I would also struggle a little bit at times. But going back there, I think the numbers kind of showed (my improvements).”
Eastin was certainly able to witness those improvements firsthand. Eastin, who is also South Mountain’s athletic director, said Shawn was able to increase the velocity of his fastball, really develop his changeup and fine-tune his already effective slider. Eastin referred to Shawn’s slider as “an absolute wipeout pitch.”
“Well, it was fun to watch and it got to the point where any time the game got on the line or we had to get an out, we were able to get Shawn loose in a hurry and get him in there, and we had full confidence every time whatever situation we put him into ... that he would get the job done,” Eastin said.
By the time the 2021 season was over, Shawn had several D-I scholarship offers, although he was too modest to list them off. He chose Grand Canyon, which won the WAC regular season and tournament titles this past spring and is located in the same city at South Mountain. The Antelopes prevailed in 25 of their last 30 regular season games and were competitive against a pair of Top 25 teams at the Tucson Regional.
“I think every kid dreams of playing at a big-time school and what they’re doing down there in Phoenix is something special, so I’m happy to go down there and be a part of it,” Shawn said.
Not only did Shawn enjoy a breakthrough season at SMCC, he found joy watching his older brother overcome the odds as a walk-on at Utah Valley and become a difference maker for the Wolverines, who are ironically enough conference rivals of Grand Canyon.
“I think every little brother looks up to his older brother, at least a little bit,” Shawn said. “Watching him throw and progress at Utah Valley was really cool. ... It was always nice watching the live stream to be able to watch him pitch.”
Likewise, Spenser thoroughly relished watching his younger brother excel at South Mountain, which is where Spenser played as a sophomore.
“It’s been really fun to watch him grow up and succeed, especially at a junior college that we had talked about him going to in order to get the offers he wanted and go to a bigger school,” Spenser said. “And it worked out perfectly for him and it was cool to get texts from him every day, hearing about his outings, and it was like two, three, four times a week he was sending me texts about how well his outings were going.”
SMCC was actually Spenser’s second collegiate stop as he spent his freshman year at Goshen (Indiana) College. The son of Jan and Daniel Triplett fared well at Goshen as he established a new single-season program record with seven saves.
As much as Spenser enjoyed his season at the NAIA program, competing at the D-I level was ultimately his goal. Transferring to a renowned JUCO program made that objective much more attainable. For example, Shawn was one of 11 South Mountain players that have signed with four-year programs over the past few months and most of them are D-I schools.
“I benefited a lot from my year at South Mountain,” Spenser said. “I went from a small NAIA school to a place where you had to get better because if you didn’t get better, you weren’t going to play or you needed to leave. And it helped me get back home to a school where I always dreamed of playing and I got to fulfill a childhood dream because of my year there at South Mountain.”
Spenser was only in Phoenix for his sophomore year, but he also left quite the impression on Eastin. Watching both Tripletts achieve their goals has been gratifying to the longtime head coach.
“It’s a testament to the family, first of all,” Eastin said. “Both are phenomenal student-athletes, phenomenal people even outside of baseball. They did things the right way. ... Our whole program is built around work ethic and lets go out and outwork the next guy, and both of those guys kind of exemplified that. And it’s awesome that both brothers were able to improve their opportunities by coming to South Mountain.”
In his lone season at SMCC, Spenser struck out 16 in 15 innings of work. It was enough to garner the attention of then-Utah Valley assistant coach Joldy Watts, but Spenser would have to pay his own way.
No. 16 struggled during his junior season with the Wolverines as his ERA ballooned to 11.25 following 14 relief appearances and 16.0 complete innings. A lot of guys in Spenser’s situation wouldn’t have come back for their senior year, but Watts quickly learned the Providence native was the exception to the rule.
“I think the biggest thing for Spenser has always been his work ethic,” Watts said. “When Spenser came to us from South Mountain, Spenser had a good arm, had some good stuff, but he struggled a little bit his junior year. There was a point where he was really struggling to make the roster, even to the point where it was like, ‘hey, am I going to be here the next year?’ And so for Spenser, I think he just outworked everybody else.”
Watts was, quite frankly, a bit blown away by how much Spenser improved during the summer between his junior and senior seasons. The 6-0, 190-pounder came back in better shape, with a significantly better slider and was throwing with more velocity.
“He came back in the fall and was a different kid,” Watts said.
Spenser’s progress was obvious in the spring of 2020 as he fanned 12 in 10 innings and had a ERA of 4.50 before COVID got in the way. The 2016 Herald Journal All-Valley Baseball Player of the Year struck out four in just one and one-third innings against BYU.
“I really improved my mental toughness,” Spenser said. “I went in to Utah Valley as a little bit of a hothead, dealt with that my junior year and didn’t see a lot of success. And the next two years I was able to change the way I approach the game a little bit and approach life, and it helped out a lot.”
For his efforts, Spenser was selected as Utah Valley’s Male Walk-on Athlete of the Year for all sports. He shared the award with another athlete.
Like Shawn, Spenser was also given the option to come back for one more season, in his case as a super senior. Utah Valley was even prepared to offer Spenser a scholarship until the NCAA announced super seniors could not get any more scholarship money than they did the previous year. In other words, the Wolverines weren’t allowed to offer the exercise science graduate any scholarship money.
“Our hands got tied by the NCAA,” Watts said.
Watts didn’t think Spenser would come back.
“He really did put his career, his life on the backburner for one more year,” said Watts, who raved about Spenser’s character and referred to him as “a quality human being.”
The ’21 campaign was a tough one for the Wolverines, who went 10-47, including 8-28 in conference play. Nevertheless, Spenser doesn’t regret his decision one bit. The three-time academic all-WAC selection was one of UVU’s most consistent performers, plus he will graduate this Friday with his MBA.
“I got to spend one more year with the guys that I really enjoy spending time with, and then I was able to go back and get a degree that’s going to open some doors for me moving on in life,” said Spenser, who helped lead Mountain Crest to a pair of region titles.
Spenser led the Wolverines in appearances (21) and saves (five) as a super senior, plus ranked fifth on the squad in strikeouts (27) and innings (29.0). No. 16 had a stretch where he didn’t allow a run over five straight appearances, plus he struck out three or four batters four times, despite never pitching more than two innings in an outing.
Once again Spenser was named UVU’s Male Walk-on Athlete of the Year, only this time he was the sole recipient. Watching his closer excel in his final two seasons in Orem was something Watts took a tremendous amount of gratification from.
“Spenser is one of my favorite guys,” said Watts, who also recruited Shawn and spoke very highly of him. “I think the one thing with Spenser that sets him apart from everybody else is Spenser has the ability to make other people around him better. He was always one of the best teammates, so that was enjoyable to watch. I think the one thing that was (really awesome) about Spenser is he genuinely cared about other people’s success.”