Editor’s note: This is the second of an 11-part series profiling various spring high school sports in Cache Valley and recognizing the seniors from those teams.
The 2020 high school baseball season was shaping up to be a memorable one for at least a couple of Cache Valley programs.
For starters, Mountain Crest returned all but two impact performers from its squad that shared the Region 12 title with Bear River. The Mustangs then promptly proceeded to go 26-5 during the 2019 American Legion season, with three of those loses decided by one run. Likewise, Ridgeline brought back several talented players from its team that tied for third in the final region standings and won its season series with Mountain Crest.
Meanwhile, Green Canyon was hungry to build on its breakout season from a year ago, Sky View made significant strides at the end of the 2019 campaign, and Logan got off to a solid start this spring.
Indeed, the Region 12 baseball race had the potential to be very intriguing before the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the rest of the season well before any region games were played. In fact, none of the local squads got to play a single game at home.
Here is a breakdown of each Cache County team:
One of the largest and most experienced senior classes in the state was looking forward to challenge for a 4A state championship and put their stamp on the program. Instead, the Mustangs were able to play three games before their season was ultimately shut down.
“We were gearing up for a very special season,” MC head coach Stephen Hansen said. “With our full pitching staff returning and a lot of playing experience returning coming off a region championship, we were looking to defend that region championship and make a deep run in the state tournament, with a very realistic chance of winning it all.”
Mountain Crest’s pitching staff was loaded, headlined by second-team all-state selection Lance Welch, Caleb Archibald and Hayden Simper. These pitchers were bolstered by an elite catcher in Tadon Burbank, who was the co-region MVP and garnered second-team all-state accolades as a junior.
Like Welch, Caden Jones was another junior primed to have a good season.
In addition to Burbank, Simpson and Archibald, the Mustangs’ other five seniors are Taylor Bitton, Ian McArthur, Cooper Murphy, Garrett Theurer and Dane Folkman. Bitton, Burbank, Archibald, Simper and Welch were tabbed to the all-region first team last season, while Theurer and Murphy were honorable mention picks.
“The eight seniors will always have a special place in my heart and the hearts of the entire coaching staff,” Hansen said. “I have been a head coach for 25 years and have been fortunate to have some very good teams and some special players. Not to take away from any of those teams, but this group of players have worked harder and dedicated themselves to baseball more than any group that I have coached. Four years ago these seniors showed up willing and wanting to work, and they did. They each turned themselves into great ball players, but most importantly great young men. ... My heart just aches for them on missing out on their senior season.”
The Mustangs organized a senior tribute earlier this month at The Yard, “with social distancing in mind to honor these great seniors,” Hansen said.
“Having the 2020 season canceled was hard on all the players, coaches, parents, families and the entire MC Baseball community,” Hansen said. “We all miss being around each other and playing/watching the great game of baseball.”
Like Mountain Crest, Ridgeline has a large, talented senior class, led by all-state honorees Mason Bowler and Dax Purser, and fellow first-team all-region selections Kade and Kyler Hansen. Additionally, the Riverhawks have several other veterans and were definitely primed for their best season in program history.
“We have been working very hard since last season and I felt our team was really gaining strength mentally and playing well together,” Ridgeline head coach Paul Bowler said. “We had a strong summer baseball season and competed very well. We have an excellent group of ballplayers that have played a lot of baseball together since they were very young and developed a strong chemistry. Our goal was to win region and to win the state championship. I have no doubt that we had a team that could do it.”
The Hansens, Purser and Bowler are all seniors, as are Austin Pond, Brandon Cook, Jace Ward, Andrew Hugie and Aidan Mellon. No baseball program in the region has as many 12th-graders as Ridgeline. Those seniors were able to compete in a region-leading seven games before play was halted.
“First of all, I was shocked, but I had hope and believed we would start back up again soon,” coach Bowler said. “Now, I’m just really disappointed, and very frustrated. Life is generally not fair, but I feel really bad for all these kids, especially the senior class. It hurts me to have these players that I love have to go through this disappointment and uncertainty. This group of seniors is really special to me because I have coached most of them since they were in little league. It has been a privilege and has been a lot of fun coaching these kids. They are an outstanding group of young men not only on the field, but off the field as well.”
Ridgeline’s captains are Evan Webb, Pond, Bowler, Purser, Eck and Kade Hansen. Other varsity mainstays for the Riverhawks are Kole Jenson, Cam Bott, Jake Astle and Braxton Gill. Coach Bowler was anticipating breakout seasons from a few of his underclassmen.
Purser, Kade Hansen and Kyler Hansen gave Ridgeline a starting pitching staff that rivaled Mountain Crest. That stellar Ridgeline pitching staff was also bolstered by Bott and Astle.
Plans to give the seniors a proper sendoff are still in the works, but coach Bowler said he looks “forward to recognizing these seniors and we want to be able to thank them all for the short ... but awesome ride.”
The Grizzlies were already halfway to their win total from a year ago when the coronavirus got in the way. Not only did Logan win half of its six games, but nearly knocked off Hurricane and Pine View.
“Our team had grown so much last summer and we were already showing great strides in the right direction with our 3-3 start to the season,” said Logan head coach Britton Coil, whose team was averaging 6.8 runs an outing. “We felt that we could be competitive in every game that we played and had the expectation to be in the top four teams in the region.”
Logan welcomed back some proven varsity performers in first-team all-region honoree Chris Shopbell and Nic Egbert, plus was buoyed by the transfer of Mountain Crest’s Ethan Wilson. Wilson was an honorable mention all-region selection last spring.
The Grizzlies are still young as Shopbell, Wilson and Jaden Shumway are their only seniors — three players Coil really enjoyed coaching.
“I am heartbroken for our three seniors this season — Jaden Shumway, Chris Shopbell, and Ethan Wilson,” Coil said. “As frustrated and sad as I am about the season, I can’t imagine how they are feeling. All three are great young men that put in so much time and work to prepare for this season. We will all miss their friendship and what they each brought to the team.”
Plans to recognize the seniors haven’t been finalized, but Coil is “asking them to play summer baseball with us and practice if they would like. I don’t feel that it was right the way they had to leave the field the last time and I would like to help them change that memory for the better.”
Shumway, Wilson and Shopbell were penciled in as three of Logan’s starters. The rest of the starting lineup was comprised of Nic and Jake Egbert, Kellen Roper, Jack Fjeldsted, Vincent Rohrer and Kody Kirk, with Jaxon Arthur and Manase Tupou also figuring into the mix.
Wilson and Shopbell were among the Grizzlies’ top offensive players and “were leading the team on the mound,” Coil asserted, when the season was halted. Coil also raved about the potential of Rohrer and Kirk, who had an impressive batting average of .526 through six games for Logan.
The Wolves experienced a lot of growing pains in their inaugural season, but bounced back in an impressive manner in season No. 2. In fact, Green Canyon was in the mix for a region title last year heading into the final week of the regular season.
Green Canyon graduated a handful of gifted seniors from that squad, but welcomed back 2019 Herald Journal Newcomer of the Year Caleb Petersen, plus honorable mention all-region performers Tanner Watson and Reece Hansen.
“The goals we had for this season were to raise the bar from what was a solid season last year and put ourselves in a position to compete for a region championship,” GC head coach Ryan Eborn said.
The Wolves have a small senior class this spring in Watson, Jaxon Riggs, Jace Downs and Mason Merrill. Watson and Petersen, a junior, are the captains.
“I have four seniors on the team this year and all were important pieces of our program,” Eborn said. “They are good ball players and special young men. I was so excited to see what they were going to achieve this year. It was extremely tough to see these guys lose their senior year playing the game they grew up playing together.”
Petersen was fantastic at the plate and on the mound a year ago. Eborn was confident Petersen, Watson and Hansen “were all ready to have huge years” for the Wolves, who were able to play five games this season.
Eborn was depending on key contributions from a handful of his younger players.
“Miles Matthews, Ryker Ericson, Nick Bouck and Abe Olson were going to have breakthrough seasons,” he declared.
Other varsity regulars for the Wolves are Alex Atkinson and Will Egan.
Although nothing is concrete, Eborn is looking forward to recognizing his seniors.
“We are putting together some sort of senior honor night that will hopefully be on the field with their families and teammates,” Eborn said. “We wanted to give them a chance to be in uniform on their home field with the team and have coaches, teammates and families honor them. We are still working out the details.”
Last season was a disappointing one for Sky View, which finished fifth in the final region standings after winning the region outright in 2018. To their credit, the Bobcats never gave up on their season and were very competitive in late three-game series against Ridgeline and Green Canyon.
Led by talented athletes like Scout Morris and Taydem Neal, the Bobcats were motivated for a resurgence in 2020. Sky View was able to split its four games before the season was halted.
“Every year you go in believing that you are going to win region and do well at state,” SV head coach Todd Phillips said. “Realistically, I believe that we would have finished third in the region and, depending on the growth throughout the season and with the RPI, see who we would have been matched up with would determine our success at state.”
The Bobcats had a good mix of seniors and juniors this spring. Sky View’s four seniors are Nate Larsen, Noah Ferrin, Remington Craig and Morris, who was named to the honorable mention all-region team last year, along with Neal.
Phillips spoke highly of his four seniors and went on to pinpoint the strengths of each of them.
“We have been communicating through a group text and that is how I broke it to the whole team,” Phillips said. “It has been emotionally draining trying to prepare the boys if we were going to come back, to giving hope in salvaging a season, to its over. My seniors are going to be missed. ... They will be sorely missed within our dugouts.”
Phillips was expecting Neal to be one of the top pitchers in the region and felt Neal was “the best shortstop in our region.” The head coach was anticipating big things from Craig and juniors Tanner Martin and Joey Cortez.
Other impact performers for the Bobcats are Tate Bagley, Tucker Murdock, Alex Carling, Cole Lundahl and Stetsen Karren.
Phillips is hoping to give his seniors a fitting sendoff by May 15.
“Been waiting to see if we would become more relaxed with protocols for distancing before making final decisions,” he said. “We will honor our seniors and do what we can to send them out the right way.”