Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated two returning Box Elder players. The Standard-Examiner regrets the error.
CLEARFIELD — Success breeds success. If you build it, they will come.
Last season, Clearfield High’s baseball team finished second in Region 1 and made a playoff run to the 6A state semifinals.
And the interest went through the roof. Where second-year head coach Steve Ross said between 40-45 kids were at baseball open gym between the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Ross estimated that number was around 80 in advance of this season.
“It was very exciting, very rewarding, very neat for these kids to have the opportunity to play in that environment. To go as deep as we did, it’s not something that we’ve done in recent years that I know of,” Ross said.
A starting pitching staff among the best in the state was key to that success. Two of those pitchers return this year: Bryson Hirabayashi and Conner Coleman.
Hirabayashi came out guns blazing last season and finished with a 7-3 record, 2.25 ERA, a no-hitter, an opposing batting average of .206 and 88 strikeouts in just 59 innings. He said a big part of the success was the infield behind him, where the Falcons have a couple key spots to replace this year.
But he also didn’t expect that many strikeouts.
“I was able to not do too much, because I know if they hit the ball, then our guys would be there to get it. It took the pressure off of trying to blow by guys or get them out,” Hirabayashi said.
Here’s what he did in his first start last season: six innings, one hit allowed, two walks, 16 strikeouts. Here’s what he did Tuesday in Clearfield’s 2019 season-opening 3-2 win over Green Canyon: four innings, eight strikeouts.
Coleman went 4-3 with a 2.32 ERA with two complete games, one shutout and 38 strikeouts in 45 1/3 innings. He also hit .300 with seven RBIs.
“I think there’s a lot of excitement (for this year) ... we’ve all been playing together for so many years and we all kind of understand that, for a lot of us, this is kind of the climax. I think a lot of us, I think all of us are ready to put it out there and give it everything we have,” Coleman said.
Like Hirabayashi, Coleman said part of having a successful pitching year is knowing that the seven players behind a pitcher in the infield and outfield are more than capable of making a play.
“It takes a lot of pressure off of you,” Coleman said.
Together, they form one of the most difficult 1-2 pitching punches to deal with and it’s not just because both of them threw a sub-3 ERA last year by a mile.
On one day, hitters have to deal with the 5-foot-7 Hirabayashi’s pitches and then turn around to face the 6-foot-2 Coleman. That’ll be especially the case in region play when teams play each other three times in a week.
If there was any Achilles’ heel for the Falcons last year, it was hitting. They batted .279 as a team.
Along with Hirabayashi and Coleman, Clearfield returns junior Taylor Sato (batted .300 with 15 RBIs), catcher Ethan Giacalone (.310, 16 RBIs) and outfielder Brady Ross (.306).
Steve Ross hopes hitting becomes the strength, or at least one of the strengths, of this year’s squad.
“You know, it’s about time for hitting to carry the program and that’s what we hope happens this year. And they’ve put a lot of work into it, but when you bring back a core group of kids like we have at the age that they are, with the experience that they have, you hope that it gels,” he said.
If there’s one thing Clearfield is especially good at, it is stepping up at the right time. The Falcons had a lot of injuries last year, injuries that could very well pop any team’s balloon.
The team kept on trucking all the way to the state semis. Steve Ross guessed that the Falcons haven’t gone that far since they won the Class A baseball state championship in 1964.
Clearfield’s hope is that the next deep playoff run doesn’t have to wait that long.
Region 1 has teams that appear poised to pitch better than they can hit, others appear to be poised to hit better than they can pitch.
Defending region champion Davis has returners Stockton Hall (.411 batting average with 11 doubles, 18 RBIs), Parker Jensen (.361, 27 RBIs, 11 doubles), Bryson Hales (.394, 17 RBIs), Adam Hackmeister (.362, 18 RBIs), Jake Wendt (.339, 14 RBIs) and Garrett Larsen (.299, 18 RBIs, 3 home runs).
Pitching will be the focus for the Darts because hitting is taken care of.
Fremont has a good group of returning hitters, including Drake Grange (.353), Brayden Clark (.330), Wyatt Howell (.318, nine RBIs) and Jack Arevalo (.274). But who will emerge as the top pitcher?
Layton returns sophomore pitcher Cam Day (6-3, 2.05 ERA), junior Carson Schaffer and junior Tanner Kofoed after Tommy John surgery sidelined him all of last year.
The Lancers have a returning outfielder Landon Brant (.333, 16 RBIs, six doubles, three triples) and infielder Micah Del Rio (.338, 12 RBIs), so they might end up being very balanced.
Jacob Rhoades (.333, 17 RBIs, six home runs, five doubles) and Stockton Cleverly (.269) appear to be the anchors in Northridge’s batting order, which needs help after Dakari Armendariz got hurt. Rhoades pitched to a 5-1 record with a 2.33 ERA last year, too.
Weber is maybe the biggest unknown this year. The Warriors had a senior-loaded team last year that made the playoffs and they’re very young this year. The youth can make for some mistake-prone games, but it also means there’s not a lot of pressure, which can do wonders for young, talented teams.
The team that’s got a ton of seniors this year is Syracuse, which has 13. The Titans return all but two positions and have a deep lineup that can do a lot, such as throw out entirely left-handed pitchers or entirely left-handed batters.
They made a late charge at the fourth playoff spot last year and came up a game behind. Syracuse figures, at the least, to be right in the mix for the top four. One of those seniors is Hunter Van Fleet, who’s committed to Barstow Community College.
Defending region champ Viewmont graduated many players and a decent number of younger kids now go to Farmington.
The Vikings could have an uphill climb this season, made harder by an injury suffered in football season to senior Noah Montoya, who batted .446 with 21 RBIs and seven doubles last year.
Where does that leave the rest of the region? For starters, Bountiful has a decent group of returners this year, led by Josh Welling, Mason Farr, Jackson Skidmore and catcher Isaac Parry, plus pitcher Lance Behrends. The Braves figure to be in the mix for the region title.
Woods Cross has a new head coach who’s actually not that new: it’s Paul Ayala, who led the Wildcats from 2009-15 as they won region titles in 2010, 2012 and 2015. The Wildcats have a good group of returners including catcher Calum Seifert, Shane Yoho and Carter Weierman. They should also be in the region title mix.
Roy has a new head coach, former Weber assistant Monty Vorwaller. A young Royals squad will miss Brody Perkes and Jack Hulce, but they get Jaxson Dart (a .448 hitter in 16 reported games) back along with Hunter Yoder (.326, committed to Southwestern Oregon Community College).
Box Elder has a solid group of returners as well, led by Skyler Laurenti (.370) and Conner Stevenson (.352) all return. The Bees appear primed to hit, but pitching will be the question.
What about Farmington? The Phoenix coach is Alex Exon, a Viewmont alum who started as a catcher at Salt Lake Community College and then played at Utah Valley. He coached at WX briefly. Farmington is young but talented.
Ogden made the playoffs last year as a No. 4 seed. The Tigers are in pretty decent position to make the playoffs again with Matt Garceau, Gage Lovell and Connor Howard spearheading a solid group of returners.
Bonneville returns catcher Brian Jones, who hit .500 last year and threw out eight runners trying to steal bases. The Lakers also get Spencer Hildebrand (.296) and Will Toller (.250) back. Pitching’s where they need help the most.
Ben Lomond’s coming off a 2-19 season in which the Scots didn’t win a region game and dealt with lower-than-usual participation that turned into constant lineup changes. The good news is there’s only one direction to go: up.
As far as the rest of the region, if the three Weber County schools find themselves battling for a playoff spot, odds are that spot will be the No. 3 or No. 4 seed. Park City and Juan Diego are expected to be two notches above everyone else. The two Tooele County schools also figure to be right in the playoff hunt as well.
Regions 12, 13, 2A Division A
Last year’s Bear River squad took second in Region 12 and has a solid number of returners. Those include Parker Coombs (batted .364, had a 3-3 pitching record with a 3.76 ERA), Wyatt Roholt (.356, 23 RBIs) and Braxton Jeppsen (.342, 19 RBIs).
Morgan’s hoping to rebound after a 6-18 season and a 2-10 mark in region play. The Trojans have a new head coach, Jed Stuart. Grantsville dominated Region 13 last year and looks primed to repeat.
Layton Christian returns Hunter Sharrett (.368, 11 RBIs) and Gunnar Sterk (.333, 13 RBIs). The Eagles are hoping to rebound after a 4-18 season (3-9 in the 2A Division A region). Gunnison and North Sevier should once again be the class of the region.