In 2016, the year before a newly-minted teenager, Tadon Burbank, entered the Mountain Crest baseball program, the Mustangs were an elite team.
Though the season fizzled fairly early in the playoffs, MC fielded a dominant team, leading Region 1 in run differential, outscoring opponents by 99 runs over the course of a 28-game season (though they finished second in the standings behind Northridge).
Cut to Burbank’s arrival at the diamond in Hyrum. Right at his point of entry, Mountain Crest High School underwent a split, forming a new rival in Ridgeline High School and throwing a massive wrench into an elite program that had almost as many 20-win seasons as otherwise in the last decade-and-a-half.
His freshman year, Burbank only made one plate appearance. He struck out. Just like the Mustangs did the entire 2017 season where they went 5-24.
The next year, as a sophomore, Burbank stepped into the batter’s box 66 times and posted a .300 batting average — second on the team. His injection into the lineup hardly helped, though, as MC saw a marginal jump in record to 7-17-2.
Initially, the 2019 season looked like it might be as bleak as the previous two seasons. The Mustangs lost three of their first four games, but they managed to enter the region schedule with a 4-3 record. From there, MC went 12-5, sweeping three region opponents — Logan, Bear River and Sky View — to come away with the Region 12 title. Burbank’s play was a major factor in the quality season.
On a team with plenty of quality hitting in the lineup, Burbank led the Mustangs in almost every offensive category: batting average (.386), slugging rating (.530) and OPS (.980). He walked up to the plate 101 times (second on the team) and tallied a team-high 32 hits, nine extra base hits and 19 RBIs. Burbank also laid claim to the only home run of the season for MC — a solo shot to left field that gave Mountain Crest a 12-11 lead over Woods Cross in a game the Mustangs won 14-11.
Only five times in the 26 games did Burbank not record at least one hit. Fittingly, the Mustangs were 1-4 in those contests and averaged 1.8 runs per outing in those games (as opposed to a 6.4-run average in all other contests).
Not only did Burbank lead the offense, he spearheaded the defense from his catcher’s spot. He led the team in total chances (175) and ultimately led the team with a .977 fielding percentage, committing only four errors all year. His 148 putouts were 56 more than the next-closes player, Lance Welch.
Thanks in large part to Burbank, the Mustangs were able to claim their first region crown in years, but winning said crown wasn’t just a story about the ups and downs of a season, it was a journey from rock-bottom to the top.
“Making the progress from (the last two years), coming to this, winning a Region 12 title is huge,” Burbank said. “To me and my teammates, it’s always something we’ve looked forward to; we’ve always talked about it.”
For Burbank himself, it was a journey that began as a youngster. His foray into baseball began at a young age in a baseball family.
“I’ve grown up in baseball,” Burbank said. “As soon as I could stand and have a bat, my parents put a bat in my hand and got me swinging.”
The soon-to-be senior was far from the only boy in his family to swing a bat during high school. Two older brothers in the Burbank family went through the Mountain Crest program. There was even overlap between Tadon and Jace in the down years of 2017 and 2018.
Burbank’s voyage to stardom in Cache Valley followed a cliché path filled with hard work at practice and extra time after others had left the diamond. But for all the work the young Burbank put in, he won’t say he got to this point by himself.
“I can’t take all the credit,” Burbank said. “My coaches have played a huge part in making me the player I’ve become.”
One coach in particular that Burbank name dropped was Dustin Smith. Currently, Smith spends his time as an assistant coach for the Mustangs under Hansen, but the relationship between Burbank and Smith dates back to the Burbank’s formative years of little league baseball.
“I’ve known him ever since I was little, and he would help me at the little league camps.”
Making the transition from little league and super league to high school brought Burbank into close contact with a Cache Valley baseball coaching legend in Hansen. The dynasty Mountain Crest produced through the 2000s and the first half of the 2010s came with him at the head.
Hansen took a break a few seasons prior to the school split, but took over the same year Burbank joined the roster.
“He’s a great coach. He’s amazing,” Burbank said. “The whole team and the coaches, we always talk about how great he is to everyone. The countless hours per week he puts in on the field just making it better for us players to look good when we play, all the money he spends and the time he spends with us kids getting us better. He’s just a great guy.”
Burbank will be a senior this upcoming season, meaning ’19 hopefully won’t be the peak in the youngster’s career. The 2020 season will be a chance for him to show out for college coaches and fulfill a childhood dream.
“I’ve wanted to play college ball ever since I was a little kid,” Burbank said.
Team-wise, there are more goals in store. Mountain Crest finished strong for a region title, but fizzled in the playoffs, scoring three runs in two games on Day 1 of the postseason, losing to Orem and Tooele at home on May 11 for a disappointing early exit.
“As a team this summer we’ve talked about winning another region championship,” Burbank said, “and then we’ve talked about going and winning a state championship.”
Mountain Crest returned to glory on the back of Burbank and coach Hansen. A championship would seal the return of a Mustangs’ dynasty by adding a third ring to the hand of Hansen, while giving a the Burbank family its first ring among three brothers.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
Caleb Petersen, So., OF/P, Green CanyonThis sophomore was not only one of his team’s best hitters, but developed into one of the region’s most clutch pitchers. Petersen batted .288 and drove in 15 runs. He went 3-0 as a pitcher and recorded an impressive 1.67 ERA in 29.1 innings on the mound.
Coach’s comment: “Caleb Petersen is a baseball player through and through. He lives for it. As a sophomore, no one outworked him from the time we started winter workouts to the end of the season. He wants to be the best he can be and works extremely hard to achieve his absolute best. ... The sky is the limit for Caleb.”
Jaren (Bear) Hale, Sr., Green CanyonHale was a solid offensive performer for the Wolves, but what set him apart from other players was his outstanding defensive play from his shortstop position. He batted .247 with 19 hits, 15 RBIs, 12 runs and 10 walks, while only striking out four times.
Coach’s comment: “Bear Hale is a special baseball player. He makes it look easy. Bear is one of the smoothest infielders I have ever coached. He has an incredible baseball IQ and love for the game. Without his quiet leadership and competitive drive, our team would not have had the success we had.”
Isaiah Smith, Jr., Preston
Smith’s .462 batting average ranked second among all valley teams, second only to his teammate, Dillon Haslam. The junior tallied 10 extra base hits, which ranked first on Preston. He sent home 11 runners on the year and in pitching duties, he struck out 63 players, also first on his team.
Coach’s comment: “Isaiah’s greatest strength is his work ethic. He is what I refer to as a student of the game. He puts in the work. He does cage work every morning before school and all throughout the offseason. He is always researching new and different drills and techniques to improve his craft.”
Dax Purser, Jr., Ridgeline
Among the All-Valley team, Purser was the only one to hit multiple home runs on the year, finishing the season with two. He also ranked fourth in doubles with five and fourth with 16 RBIs on the year. Purser ranked fifth on the all-valley team in batting average at .367. In addition to his batting and fielding duties, Purser also led his team as a pitcher, striking out 69 batters in 43 innings, while posting a 2.767 ERA.
Coach’s comment: “Dax was valuable to us in several different roles this year and was key in our success as a pitcher, playing first base and as a batter. As a pitcher, Dax set the tone of the game and made it difficult for the batters. On offense, Dax would always give us a boost by hitting the ball hard or hitting it where (the defense) wasn’t.”
Dewey Panter, Sr., Green Canyon
Like Peterson, Panter got the job done for a much-improved Green Canyon team at the plate and on the mound. The three-sport standout finished with an on-base percentage of .375 and drove in 12 runs. Panter also pitched 43.2 innings and posted a 3.687 ERA.
Coach’s comment: “Dewey Panter is the ultimate competitor. As a multi-sport athlete, Dewey knows what it takes to compete at a high level. He was a dangerous bat in our lineup. He ran the bases well, made great plays for us at third base and competed on the mound to keep us in a position to win every time he took the ball.”
Rhett Draper, Sr., Sky View
The .302 batting average doesn’t stand out among his peers, but his 18 RBIs do in a big way, leading his team in that category and ranking third on the All-Valley team. Draper also pitched 40 innings for the Bobcats, second on his team, recording 18 strikeouts, with a 5.3 ERA.
Coach’s comment: “Rhett was senior that had split time on varsity (before this season), so he didn’t have as much experience. He got our offense going early on in the year and did well on the mound. He gave us great performances on the mound, giving us the opportunity to win, which unfortunately didn’t happen (enough).”
Chris Shopbell, Jr., Logan
The only All-Valley selection for the Grizzlies, Shopbell excelled in a disappointing season for Logan. He led his team at the plate with a .324 batting average, hitting six RBIs, while also pitching 42 innings throughout the season. He finished with 38 Ks on the mound, with a 4.67 ERA.
Coach’s comment: “Chris was a guy we depended on every game. He was on base more than anyone on our team, giving us a chance to score. He was able to make solid plays in the field and always gave us a chance to win on the mound. Looking forward to having him back next season.”
Mason Bowler, Jr., RidgelineOne of just three players with a batting average north of .400, Bowler dominated at the plate with 20 RBIs, most among All-Valley players, helped along by his six doubles, tied for second among Valley players. He also scored 15 runs on the year.
Coach’s comment: “Mason was valuable to us as a competitor and leader. You can always count on Mason to make plays and have good at-bats. He led our team in most all of the offensive categories and always seemed to be involved when we were scoring runs. On defense, Mason was our anchor and was key in helping us solidify our defense.”
Dillon Haslam, Jr., Preston
The best of all the gang in terms of batting average. Haslam’s .508 average blows away all the competition in terms of getting hits, of which he had 33. Eight of those 33 were extra-base hits, and Haslam totaled 11 RBIs and scored 17 runs on the year.
Coach’s comment: “Dillon’s greatest strength is his shear passion for the game. It’s what makes him tick. He truly loves the game and plays it spring, summer and fall. He is constantly trying to better himself in every aspect of the game. He does not believe that good is good enough.”
Brady Hall, Sr. Mountain CrestThough somewhat average at the plate (.257 batting average), Hall put his best foot forward in his outfield duties, committing just two errors on the year. And when he got on base, Hall excelled at getting back to home plate, leading his team and the valley in runs scored at 23.
Coach’s comment: “Brady fell in love with the game of baseball and it showed. His offensive production down the stretch helped us win some ballgames. He is one of the most athletic players we have had in our program. With Brady concentrating on baseball only in college, the sky is the limit for him. I am excited to follow his progress.”
Taylor Bitton, Jr., Mountain Crest
Bitton finished second on the Mustangs in batting average at .343, second only to Burbank. Bitton’s .465 on-base percentage was first, however, among his immediate peers. The junior scored 17 runs, had 24 hits (again, second only to Burbank) and had the misfortune of leading the valley in times he was hit by a pitch (seven).
Coach’s comment: “Taylor had a breakout season for us at the plate and in the outfield. He performed above our expectations and was a big reason why we won a region championship. Taylor gets on base and makes things happen. We are excited to have him for another season.”
Ryder Lundahl, Sr., Sky View
Already a force in the region as the reigning MVP, Lundahl continued to excel in 2019, leading Sky View in batting average (.375), on-base percentage (.512), doubles (six), runs scored (15) and times walked (15). The last statistic showed just how much of a hard time Lundahl gave to pitchers trying to avoid giving up big hits.
Coach’s comment: “Ryder was the leader of our team. As the region MVP his junior year, he had a target on his back. Teams were pitching around him. Once he was patient, he was on base causing some havoc. In our last six games, he had an .857 on-base percentage, which gave us many opportunities (to score).”
Lance Welch, So., Mountain CrestIn 63.0 innings pitched, or nine games worth of innings, Welch gave up a grand total of seven earned runs for a .778 ERA. He led arguably the best defense in the region from the mound, striking out 60 batters to just 12 walks and 44 hits. Welch finished with a 6-3 record.
Coach’s comment: “Lance is a quiet competitor. He demands perfection out of himself each time he toes the rubber. Each time Lance takes the mound we know we have a great chance to win. Lance works hard on his own. He is only going to get better and we are very excited to have him two more years.”
Caleb Archibald, Jr., Mountain Crest
Among starters for MC, Archibald finished second in just about every category for the team that had one of the deepest bullpens and best defenses. Archibald posted a 5-3 overall record, with a 2.168 ERA, 54 strikeouts, 46 hits in 51.2 innings pitched.
Coach’s comment: “Caleb had matured as a baseball player and is starting to understand the game and how to pitch. Caleb has a huge upside if he stays hungry on improving. Caleb gives us a chance to win each outing and will compete. He had a breakout year on the mound and will be a great asset for us next year.”
Payton Jones, Sr., Green Canyon
A year ago, Green Canyon lacked a legitimate No. 1 pitcher. That wasn’t an issue in 2019 as Jones proved he was an all-region and all-state-level performer. Jones went 4-2 on the mound, with an impressive 1.45 ERA while pitching a team-leading 43.1 frames. He fanned 36 and walked 19.
Coach’s comment: “Payton Jones was steady all year long. He was our ace on the hill and when he took the ball as our pitcher, I knew we had a great chance to win. He’s driven to excel both on and off the field. He was a solid contact hitter and made things happen offensively. When he wasn’t pitching, he anchored center field for us and made solid defensive plays for us all season.”
Kade Hansen, Jr., Ridgeline
Hansen finished the season with tied for a team-best 24 hits allowed. His 46.1 innings pitched were most on the team and he made the most of them with 53 Ks. His 3.173 ERA ranked third on the team.
Coach’s comment: “Kade had some really good games on the mound this year and also had some really big hits for us. Kade does a good job of keeping his emotions in check while pitching, and he does a good job of finding the umpire’s strike zone. Then he just goes to work, does his job and gets it done.”
Kyler Hansen, Jr., Ridgeline
The junior led his team in ERA with a 2.032 mark in the 41.1 innings he pitched throughout the season. He walked 22 batters on the year, but made up for it with his 27 strikeouts and ability to prevent those he put on base from making it home.
Coach’s comment: “Kyler played a huge role for us on the mound this year. He got better each week and was very good at keeping batters off-balance. Kyler did a great job of working ahead in the count and was just a bulldog out there. He pitched with confidence and a great mentality.”
HJ sports writer Jason Turner contributed to this report