Prep baseball: Retooled Skyline out to defend title
Anj Bourgeois was one of the jubilant Skyline players who raced to the middle of the field after the Eagles secured their first state baseball championship a year ago.
"It was incredible," Bourgeois said about the Class 4A title game victory over Timpanogos. "It was one of the greatest feelings I've ever had."
Things have changed since last May. That will happen when 10 members of a team graduate, leaving plenty of vacancies to be filled.
Bourgeois, for instance, was mostly a junior varsity player who dressed for varsity and pinch-ran "like, twice" one year ago, he said. But Bourgeois is hitting third and starting at third base for Skyline this season.
Along with Abe Yagi, Bourgeois is one of two sophomores on the lineup card for the Eagles.
But they weren't the only ones who saw sparse activity on varsity in 2012 and now are seeing plenty.
Skyline coach Erik Hansen said he's really depending on the seniors on this year's team.
"We have about five or six seniors who are in our starting lineup," Hansen said. "What I love about seniors who haven't had that opportunity to play they usually step up.
"They have that one shot. They put everything into it and they know it's their team. They know it's their time."
Seniors Ryan Clark and Coleman Gerdes did see some playing time while platooning in the Skyline outfield last season. Fellow seniors joining those two as starters this year are right fielder Nick Greene, first baseman Jake Cushing and Griffen Clayton.
A couple of juniors, Bridger Nielson and Jake VanAmen, will see plenty of time as well, with Nielson "under the radar" as one of the better pitchers in the state, according to Hansen.
There are some noticeable differences in attitude and philosophy between last year's team and this season's squad.
First, the Eagles haven't had much trouble so far scoring runs this season. They beat Woods Cross 16-3 and Provo 13-1 in the first two games of the season.
But the scoring won't be as much a result of the long ball this season because players like Luke Myers, who was second statewide in 2012 with seven home runs, graduated.
"We don't have quite the big sluggers as we did last year," said Clark, who will hit cleanup. "But we're doing a real good job at the little things. A base hit here, a walk, whatever it takes to get that run in. I think that's making us a real dangerous team right now."
Second, and you might have to be in the dugout to notice, Skyline has a different temperament.
"We had a bunch of guys who liked to have fun last year," Hansen said. "When they were able to have fun, they played their best. They were loose, sometimes too loose, I thought. This team is more of a bring your lunch pail to work, which I love, which is more of my personality."
"This year's team is a little more focused on just getting the job done," Clark said. "There's definitely a different mentality, but I think in the end, it's two different but good teams."