Tournaments | Story | 9/13/2019

MountainWest's desert dance

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Brayden Taylor

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Here it was, an early Friday afternoon in mid-September, and while high school seniors from coast-to-coast were gearing up for another round of Friday Night Lights on the football field, a proud and talented collection of ballplayers from the state of Utah were getting after it in the desert.

The players from South Jordan, Utah-based MountainWest Baseball seemed to be perfectly content missing any sort of football-related activities back home as they gathered to begin play at the Perfect Game WWBA Upperclass Fall National Championship Protected by G-Form under a scorching desert sun at the Goodyear Ballpark Sports Complex.

Now granted, there were some prominent members of the ballclub that missed Friday’s game because they are also members of their high school’s football team, but they could be excused. They stayed home to compete and not just to spectate and, in fact, might be joining their MountainWest teammates as early as Saturday.

And the guys that were on-hand Friday? Well, the 110-degree early afternoon temperature did nothing to lessen their enthusiasm.

“This is really where I want to be,” top 2020 MountainWest prospect Brayden Taylor told PG before taking the field for a 1:15 p.m. tournament opener. “If you want to be good you’ve got to keep working every day and this is the right place to do it and you try not to focus on the heat.

“Obviously, it is hot, but you try to just go out there and play baseball,” he added. “You stay hydrated and then you just try to focus on the game at hand.”

MountainWest stayed very focused in its opener, topping Golden, Colo.-based Elite Baseball 7-0 in seven innings. Taylor, an infielder from West Jordan, Utah, and a TCU commit ranked No. 170 in the 2020 class, doubled, singled twice and drove in a pair of runs to lead the Mountainmen, but he got plenty of help.

Chipper Beck, Braden Campbell, Camden Stephens, and Michael Paul each singled and drove in a run in the win; Bryant Ball and Vaughn Deming both walked three times and scored twice.

On the hill, meanwhile, the 2020 right-hander Stephens threw six, two-hit, shutout innings, striking out 10 and walking one; fellow 2020 righty Parker Thomas threw a 1-2-3 seventh, striking out two. It was a great way for the Utah guys to get things started, performing very well under a glaring sun that provided its own Friday Afternoon Lights.

“The best thing you can do is to come here and play and showcase your skills against the best possible talent,” MountainWest acting head coach Mason Marshall told PG pregame. “If you can take your at-bats and show your bat speed against 90 mile-per-hour arms instead of 75 mph arms during a regular high school season, it showcases your skills that much better.

“It’s more appealing to college scouts to play down here against the better talent regardless of the weather or the conditions,” he continued. “It’s hot but we think it’s definitely worth it for them to come and play (here) just because of the talent pool.”

MountainWest Baseball owner Bob Keyes founded the organization way back in 1984 with a vision of helping Utah kids that were pursuing a future in baseball. He wanted to do as much as he could to help these youngsters who were toiling away in relative obscurity in the mountainous state be seen and have the best chance they could possibly have at moving on to the next level.

The official roster for this Upperclass MountainWest team is proof of that, with three top 2020s committed to top-notch collegiate program.

In addition to Brayden Taylor’s commitment to TCU, No. 119-ranked right-hander/infielder Joseph Dixon is waiting to sign with Stanford and top-500 catcher/right-hander Owen Mortensen is also heading to the Pac-12, only to home state school Utah; Top-1,000 right-hander Brett Porthan is a Dixie State commit.

Other top-500s on the roster – every player is a 2020 – include Campbell, Thomas and Cooper Loveridge; there are also several top-1,000s and High Follows.

“This is an amazing group,” Taylor said. “You get kids from all over the state to come play, and there’s kids here  that you meet for the first time or kids that you’ve been playing with the whole time. It’s really fun to go out there and meet new people and people that are good, too. You make new friends so it’s a lot of fun.”

This trip to the desert may, in fact, prove to be a character-builder for these high school seniors for no other reason than playing baseball in 110-degree heat puts an emphasis on each player’s resiliency and, of course, his competitive nature.

The directors and coaches at MountainWest Baseball like bringing their teams to this event because it gives their players an opportunity to measure themselves against some of the best talent from the western part of the country as opposed to what they might see during the spring while playing their high school seasons.

“We work really hard,” Taylor said. “We have a facility back in Utah and I see guys there every day, just working hard. It’s necessary for when we come out here because if you want to be good you’ve got to get the work in.”

According to Marshall – who was filling in Friday for the regular head coach Kavin Keyes – a lot of the prospects on this MountainWest squad arrived in the desert with a sort of dual-purpose.

They know they can use it as a learning experience simply by watching the guys from states like Arizona, California and Colorado go about their business and they can also use it just to refine their own games and get better in the process.

Several also have goals of winning a Utah state championship at their respective high schools in their senior year and their experiences here could very well give them a leg-up on the competition when the spring of 2020 rolls around.

Marshall called the state of Arizona “Baseball Central” especially for a travel ball program out of Utah. He noted how many college recruiters and pro scouts attend the PG events in the Phoenix area, and with so many MLB Cactus League spring training complexes within a relatively easy drive here in the West Valley alone, the environment is second-to-none. PG is utilizing the complexes in Goodyear, Glendale and Peoria this weekend.

The PG WWBA Upperclass Fall National Championship Protected by G-Form provides an excellent platform for the uncommitted players on the 50 separate team rosters to exhibit their wares with about six months remaining before the start of their 2020 high school seasons. It also provides an over-sized stage from which these kids from Utah can make a statement.

“We want to come down here and we want to win ballgames,” Marshall said. “We see it as, the more we win the better it makes Utah look, which means more scouts will come and look at Utah guys. The better we play here the better it is for everyone in Utah because the scouts will have a higher respect for Utah talent.

“So our whole goal is to come down here and win games,” he continued. “We’re not coming down here to have a guy throw two innings and have a guy throw another inning, we’re here to win ballgames.”

Taylor, the highly ranked TCU commit, agrees:

“We come out here to win; we feel like we can compete with all the competition out here,” he said. “These are the best guys out there, and we see it in Utah but we don’t see a lot of it in Utah. That’s why it’s better to come down here to Arizona and play against them. It’s definitely fun to watch how they play and pick up on different things.”

As for those bright Friday Night Lights back home in cities like South Jordan, West Jordan, Sandy and Spanish Fork? They’ll still be shining later this month and into October, and the Arizona desert really isn’t that bad of a place to be in mid-September anyway.

“It shows a lot of the dedication that these guys have and what their goals are,” Marshall said. “They’re here on a Friday during high school football season; they’ve got dances, they’ve got girlfriends. It shows how important baseball and how important their future is to them by being willing to come to Phoenix and suffer in 100 degree weather on a Friday night instead of hanging out with their friends up in Utah.”

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