TWIR9: Spring sports season hits fever pitch this week as postseason begins

COMMENTARY — The spring sports season has been building to a climactic finish and we’re almost there. For tennis, championship week is here and for the other spring sports it is the penultimate week, with the state championships coming next week. The good news is that a lot of the championships are right here in Utah’s Dixie, so we will be fortunate to witness a lot of the action firsthand.

One of the cool things about region championships and state tournaments is the opportunity for young men and women to step up in pressure-packed situations and do something special. So much is made of the athlete that “chokes” or struggles under the tense circumstances. But I can testify that a huge majority of young people, especially in Utah, come into those situations well-prepared, both physically and mentally and they succeed.

There will be a few that choke this week and next as we wrap up the 2015 spring season, but anyone who cares to observe carefully will notice that a large percentage of our high school athletes really do their best when the most is on the line. Chalk it up to good parenting, good coaching and/or just strong kids. Whichever it is, I love it and can’t wait to see it take place over the next 10 days.

SOCCER

The boys soccer is into the state semis and Region 9 has done really well, with region-champ Dixie and runners-up Pine View and Snow Canyon all making the semifinals.

Look for our coverage from AJ Griffin at Alta High Friday evening for the Dixie-Juan Diego semifinal as well as the Warriors-Panthers battle. The semis are at 4 and 6:15 p.m.

AJ will also be at Saturday’s championship game, which is guaranteed to have at least one Region 9 team. It’s at 1:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy.

BOYS TENNIS

The 3A State Tournament begins Friday morning at 9 a.m. at Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park and everyone will be trying to unseat two-time champion Juan Diego.

First singles star Brendan Kempin, who made the state crown almost a foregone conclusion with his three straight state championships, has graduated and it’s time for a new first singles champ. There’s one problem, however, as Brendan’s younger brother Ryan, who won at second singles last season, is back and the junior is trying to follow in his brother’s footsteps. Add to that another Kempin, sophomore Connor at second singles, and it’s easy to see why Juan Diego has been so strong.

tennisHowever, there are chinks in the Soaring Eagle armor this year. They don’t have a real strong presence at third singles or either doubles slot. That’s where teams like Desert Hills, Dixie and Snow Canyon can make some waves.

Will Benson, Region 9 champ at second singles, will battle Connor Kempin and co. for that state title. At third singles, Desert Hills junior Ryan McGinnis will be on of the favorites, along with Park City’s Connor Burke.

First doubles, dominated by Desert Hills the last four years, should be an exciting bracket with the Thunder’s Braden Evans and Kyler Kennedy one of the favorites, along with park City’s Cole Lee and Brennen French.

Second doubles, also an area that has been dominated by D-Hills the last few years, could be wide open. Snow Canyon duo Jonathan Morgan and Trevor Muse are the favorites, having won the region title. But watch out for DH’s Austin Hardy and Conner McArthur, who took Morgan-Muse to three sets in region.

It’s worth mentioning as well that Micah Alba, Region 9’s champ at first singles, will have revenge on his mind this weekend. Alba was eliminated in the semifinals at second singles last year by Ryan Kempin and in the finals in 2013. Alba is undefeated this season. He edged another state contender, Gabe Anderson of Desert Hills, for the region title.

State tournament schedule
Boys 3A State Tennis
Friday and Saturday, May 8-9 at Liberty Park, 9 a.m.

TRACK AND FIELD

Region is today and tomorrow at Dixie High School, with defending state champion Desert Hills the favorite on both the boys and girls side.

Chandler Swaney
Chandler Swaney

Speedy hurdlers Caleb Whitney and Zak Fuchs, distance-runner Joshua Thatcher, javelin artist Austin Drew and high jumper/long jumper Chandler Swaney will lead the way for the Thunder boys, who were completely dominant in last year’s region meet, winning 11 of the 16 events. Swaney also is a top-notch sprinter.

Hurricane also has some hot contenders, including hurdler Ky Voorhees and Nephi Eschler.

It is mostly trials and prelims Wednesday (excepting the 1,600 and the 1,600 relay), with the rest of the finals on Thursday. The region meet starts at 4 p.m. both days.

Look for coverage, including photos, from St. George News today and tomorrow.

Region track and field schedule
Region 9 championships at Dixie High
Today, 4 p.m.
Thursday, 4 p.m.

GIRLS GOLF

Since 2010, Desert Hills has been the top dog in girls golf in 3A and that doesn’t seem likely to change this year.

Katie Perkins
Katie Perkins

Led by Katie Perkins, the demure senior who has won two straight state titles and three straight region titles, the Thunder are clearly the team to beat heading into the state tournament, which is May 13-14 at Bloomington Country Club here in St. George.  Abby Morris, Tori Thomas and Bailee Carmack all played well for DH this week in preparation for the state tourney.

Laurie Dyer coaches the Thunder and has for the last three title runs.

State tournament schedule
Girls 3A State Golf at Bloomington CC
Friday and Saturday, May 13-14 at Liberty Park, 9 a.m.

BASEBALL

Saturday, the “pods” are finally here, with Pine View, Park City, Payson and Bear River playing hosts to the 16 teams that qualified for the 3A State Tournament. The first two rounds will be played at those four sites, with Pine View welcoming Stansbury, Juab and Union; Park City hosting Snow Canyon, Carbon and Grantsville; Payson hosting Cedar, Uintah and Tooele; and Bear River hosting Desert Hills, Juan Diego and Richfield. Here’s a link to the 3A bracket.

Brooks Barney (21) puts a ball in play for the Panthers, Snow Canyon vs. Pine View, baseball, St. George, Utah, Mar. 18, 2015 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Brooks Barney (21) and the Panthers play at 12:30 Saturday, file photo from Snow Canyon vs. Pine View, St. George, Utah, Mar. 18, 2015 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Pine View is the heavy favorite in the pod at Panther Field. PV opens with Union (12:30 p.m.) and should win big, then a likely 6:30 p.m. with Stansbury for a ticket into the winner’s bracket quarterfinals. The Stallions got 10-runned by Dixie and Payson in the preseason, but that was a long time ago. In the last month, SHS is 8-1 and beat Bear River 9-0 a week ago.

At Bear River, co-Region 9 champ Desert Hills will be favored over even the host Bears. DH plays Juan Diego at 1 p.m., but the traditionally strong Soaring Eagle are down this year. Juan Diego went 12-9 this season and JD’s recent four-game win streak comes against cellar-dwellers Union and Morgan. The Thunder will likely meet the Bears, losers of 3 of the last 4, on their home field for the right to move on to the quarterfinals. The winner’s game is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. The loser’s game is also at 3:30 p.m. at Box Elder High.

Cedar’s got a couple of tough games in the Payson pod if it wants to move along in the winner’s bracket. The Redmen meet Uintah in the first round at 11 a.m. (at the Spanish Fork city field). If Cedar wins that one, host Payson would likely be the next foe. The second-round game is scheduled for 2 p.m. After starting region play 1-3, Cedar has won 9 of 10. Payson has won nine straight. Pine View went to this pod last season and won both games.

Snow Canyon also has its work cut out for it. The Warriors, who won four straight at the end of the season to qualify for the playoffs, face a red-hot Park City team that averages nearly eight runs a game and has won 8 of 9. The Miners feature on of the state’s top pitchers in Ryan Brady, who is 7-1 on the season. The SC-PC game is at 12:30 p.m. and the winner will face the winner of Carbon-Grantsville at 3 p.m.

Look for Region 9 to have at least two unbeaten teams after Saturday and I wouldn’t be surprised to see all four emerge unscathed. Cedar coaches will need to decide if they want to save ace Brecken Lewis for the second round, while Snow Canyon, which has scored 48 runs the last four games, should be able to get some hits against Brady.

As good as Region 9 has been in recent years, it’s easy to forget that Grantsville was the champ last year, a fateful run by a bunch of seniors in just the right situation. I wouldn’t bet against Region 9, but there are a couple of teams from other regions that could put together a similar run.

3A State Baseball Tournament

Saturday’s first two rounds
At Pine View High School

Juab (10-6) vs. Stansbury (13-7), 9:30 a.m.
Union (10-11) vs. Pine View (14-8), 12:30 p.m.
Note: Winners play at 6:30 p.m. , losers play at 3:30 p.m.

At Park City High School
Grantsville (8-14) vs. Carbon (10-10), 10 a.m.
Snow Canyon (16-7) vs. Park City (18-4), 12:30 p.m.
Note: Winners play at 3 p.m., losers play at 5:30 p.m.

At Payson High School
Cedar (17-5) vs. Uintah (17-5), 11 a.m. — Spanish Fork Field 8
Tooele (5-15) vs. Payson (16-6), 11 a.m.
Note: Winners play at 2 p.m., losers play at 2 p.m.

At Bear River High School
Richfield (9-13) vs. Bear River (14-8), 10 a.m.
Juan Diego (11-9) vs. Desert Hills (16-7), 1 p.m.
Note: Winners play at 3:30 p.m., losers play at 4 p.m.

SOFTBALL

Typically, Region 11 has been a bit of a bully in 3A softball. In fact, Region 11 teams have won eight straight state titles, dating back to 2007. Canyon View (2006) was the only team not named Stansbury, Tooele or Bear River to win a state title since 2000. That’s why Region 9 champ Snow Canyon is 16-4, but unranked by the Salt Lake media.

Nikenna Durante follows the flight of the ball for Snow Canyon, Dixie vs. Snow Canyon, Softball, St. George, Utah, Mar. 27, 2015 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Nikenna Durante and the Warriors play at noon on Saturday, file photo from Dixie vs. Snow Canyon, St. George, Utah, Mar. 27, 2015 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

So the Warriors have something to prove. They host their pod and open with a pretty weak Morgan team (8-13), Saturday at noon. Unlike the baseball bracket, the softball winners do not play a second game Saturday, but advance to the second part of the state tournament, which is May 14-16 at Little Valley’s softball complex. That’s when the metal meets the road as SC will likely battle Stansbury. The Stallions tied for second in Region 11, but are 20-4 and ranked second in the state.

The other pods are in Vernal (where Dixie meets host Uintah Saturday at 10 a.m.), in Nephi (where Cedar will play Juan Diego at 10 a.m.) and in Grantsville (where Region 9’s Canyon View will face Union).

Snow Canyon has had a great season under first-year head coach Tracee Heaton. Is it too early to expect the Warriors to take that next step and beat Stansbury in the second round? Maybe not. SC is 0-2 against Region 11 this season, but both games were close.

Here’s the 3A softball bracket.

3A State Softball Tournament
Saturday’s first round
At Snow Canyon High School
Carbon (18-6) vs. Stansbury (20-4), 10 a.m.
Morgan (8-13) vs. Snow Canyon (16-4), Noon
Note: Losers play at 2 p.m.

At Uintah High School
Dixie (9-9) vs. Uintah (23-3), 10 a.m.
Bear River (18-6) vs. Payson (18-7), Noon
Note: Losers play at 2 p.m.

At Juab High School
Cedar (14-10) vs. Juan Diego (13-12), 10 a.m.
Tooele (14-9) vs. Juab (20-3), Noon
Note: Losers play at 2 p.m.

At Grantsville High School
North Sanpete (5-15) vs. Grantsville (20-3), 10 a.m.
Union (7-17) vs. Canyon View (10-12), Noon
Note: Losers play at 2 p.m.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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