ST. GEORGE – There is much to be learned this Saturday in the first two rounds of the 3A state baseball playoffs, with teams from around the state heading to four playoff “pods,” hosted by the four region champions.
In the preseason, it’s a mixed bag, with coaches finalizing positions and pitching rotations against a wide variety of foes, from 5A and 4A teams to out-of-state opponents on the dockets. Then region hits and teams focus on their geographic area and play the same teams two or three times without much thought on the strength of those opponents or what’s going on in the other regions.
And then the pods hit.
That’s when we really start to see which regions and teams are the best of the best. It’s not uncommon to see a few mercy-rule games in the first round or two, especially in games involving No. 1 seeds vs. No. 4 seeds. For instance, Region 10 champ Park City (19-3) plays Morgan, a No. 4 seed from Region 11 that went 7-15 on the year. And Dixie, also 19-3, plays Richfield, an 8-15 team that has had two different five-game losing streaks this season.
But the learning comes quickly this Saturday. Region 9 No. 2 Desert Hills is the likely second-round opponent of Park City. The 17-5 Thunder should be a worthy opponent for the Miners, who lost to Pine View (so did Desert Hills) and beat Hurricane (DH did, too) this year.
Other intriguing matchups Saturday include a first-round game in Cedar City between Region 9 No. 4 Snow Canyon and Region 12 champ Canyon View. The Falcons (14-8) went 10-2 in region, but lost preseason games to Cedar (1-9 in Region 9) and Dixie (a 17-2 loss to the Flyers). So how good is Canyon View?
Pine View’s trip to Bear River should be revealing as well. The Panthers tied for third in Region 9 and won the coin toss with Snow Canyon. The reward is a trip to the other end of the state. Pine View (12-10) will play Juab (13-8) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday and could face Region 11 champ Bear River in the second round on the Bears home field. Bear River (18-6) got beat 10-4 by Dixie in the preseason and were 10-runned by a mediocre Grantsville team. But, then again, it was the preseason.
Recent history has told us that Region 9 holds the balance of power in 3A baseball. Four of the last five 3A champions have come from southern Utah and the last two seasons have had both finalists representing Region 9. WIll the southern teams dominate again?
We’ll get a good idea Saturday, so get ready for a crash course in 3A baseball power.
Here’s a quick glance at the 3A playoffs:
3A State Tournament Pods (1st and 2nd rounds)
@ Canyon View
Juan Diego (15-9) vs. Grantsville (12-10), 9:30 a.m.
Canyon View (14-8) vs. Snow Canyon (14-9), 12:30 p.m.
Winner game, 3:30 p.m.
Elimination game, 3:30 p.m. (at Cedar High, unless CV is in game)
Stansbury (13-9) vs. Ridgeline (13-5), 9 a.m.
Dixie (19-3) vs. Richfield (8-15), noon
Elimination game, 3 p.m.
Winner game, 6 p.m.
@ Park City
Park City (19-3) vs. Morgan (7-15), 11 a.m.
Desert Hills (17-5) vs. Carbon (11-10), 1:30 p.m.
Winner game, 4 p.m.
Elimination game, 4 p.m. (at Wasatch High, unless PC in game)
@ Bear River
Bear River (18-6) vs. Union (9-12), 10 a.m.
Pine View (12-10) vs. Juab (13-8), 12:30 p.m.
Winner game, 3 p.m.
Elimination game, 3 p.m. (at Box Elder High, unless BR in game)
The contenders: Have to include all four Region 9 playoff teams, plus the three region champs and maybe Juan Diego, which is very potent offensively, though it is puzzling how the Soaring Eagle can beat Ridgeline 10-0 and 17-0 and also lose to the below-average Riverhawks twice.
And it’s worth mentioning that Cedar, which was a No. 3 seed two years ago and a No. 4 last year, played for the state title both seasons.
What to expect:
Canyon View pod (Canyon View vs. Snow Canyon and Juan Diego vs. Grantsville) – Major intrigue here. The Falcons were always respectable in Region 9 and have translated that to a couple of Region 12 championships. It also meant some playoff success last year as CV won its pod, then made it to the final day of the state tourney before being eliminated. But this pod is a little more loaded in 2017, with a good Snow Canyon team (14-9) and a dangerous Juan Diego (15-9) squad that can put up big runs. Grantsville should be two and done, but which team takes this pod is anyone’s guess. SC has the best pitching and the best player (Austin Deming), JD has the best hitters and CV is a hybrid of the two.
Dixie pod (Dixie vs. Richfield and Ridgeline vs. Stansbury) – This seems to be the biggest mismatch pod of the bunch. The Flyers have won eight straight and have the hitting and pitching to cruise through this grouping. Hobbs Nyberg might be the two best players in 3A, and they’re both on Dixie and they’re both juniors. Richfield has eight homers and 10 doubles this season, numbers matched by Fisher all by himself. And getting excited about a Ridgeline-Stansbury matchup is difficult. The Riverhawks (15-5) beat Snow Canyon in the preseason and took two of three from Juan Diego. But they also have puzzling mercy-rule losses on their schedule and have feasted on awful teams like Ben Lomond and Morgan. The Stallions (13-9) beat Park City and 4A Corner Canyon, but not much else impresses. This is Dixie’s pod to lose.
Park City pod (Park City vs. Morgan and Desert Hills vs, Carbon) – A second-round meeting between the Miners and Thunder is almost a surety as both teams should cruise in the first game. That could mean a Ryan Brady (7-1, ERA below 1.50) vs. Drew Thorpe (5-1. 0.95 ERA) matchup. Thorpe is also a .403 hitter and Brady is a doubles machine with six on the year. The Thunder speed may be the difference, with DH leading the state with 77 stolen bases. But getting men on first is key to a good running game. Whichever team wins that Park City-Desert Hills game will emerge as a state champion contender, but the loser may actually have a shot at making it through the one-loss bracket as both teams have deep pitching staffs.
Bear River pod (Bear River vs. Union, Pine View vs. Juab) – The Bears will boat-race the Cougars and the Panthers should cruise past a Juab team that struggled with North Sanpete and Richfield. So what does a Bear River-Pine View second round game look like. Both teams will likely throw their ace, which means Marshall Pond vs. Jagun Leavitt. Pond is 4-0, but Leavitt has been especially impressive late in the year. He has an ERA of 2.20 and is 3-1 in his last four starts with a shutout and two one-run complete games. If the Panthers beat Juab and throw Leavitt against the Bears, I like their chances. PV coach Troy Wall was worried about the weather in extreme northern Utah, and showers are projected for Saturday. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
If the higher seeds won every game, the quarterfinals on May 18 (next Thursday) at UVU would pit Canyon View vs. Dixie at 11 a.m. and Park City vs. Bear River at 1:30 p.m. But that’s a big “if.”
The 3A semifinal game between the two teams remaining without a loss is May 19 (next Friday) at 4:30 p.m., with elimination games going on all day Thursday and Friday. A loser out game is scheduled for May 20 at 10 a.m. at UVU, with the championship game to follow (approximately noon) and an “if necessary” game after that.
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