Prep baseball: Nielson thrives on added pressure
Bridger Nielson has a ring he wears on game days and plenty of pictures to remind him of how the season ended last year.
They passed around the state championship trophy, students stormed the field and parents finally were happy.
It was a scene that would make anyone's eye-black run.
But now that Skyline's Bridger Nielson has had a year to celebrate being a part of a state championship team, there just might be one thing better.
Not to be greedy, but like most pitchers, he would like to go from being a man to the man.
He pitched in one inning in the first game against Timpanogos and was going to pitch in the 11th inning of the final game before Skyline won the title with a run in the bottom of the 10th last year.
With that experience under his hat, the 6-foot-1 left-handed junior pitcher is back with a new pitch, more velocity and better pitch location. In other words, he's pitching with confidence.
"I think the experience I got last year has helped me become a better pitcher," Nielson said. "Watching Lars [Lofgren] and Bridger [Berrett] made me want to be better. We knew we could count on them last year to get a win. I want to be like that."
Skyline coach Eric Hansen can tell you that desire could be the hardest thing to coach but the most valuable asset at the high-school level.
"He wants to be great, and many high-school kids don't want it bad enough to put in the time to be great," Hansen said. "He hasn't had a bad game yet. He's one of those pitchers that can get out of a jam by himself. He's competitive, and that's what makes him a tough pitcher."
The proof is in the numbers. Nielson is 6-0 with a 1.79 ERA. He has 45 strikeouts over 43 innings of work on a Skyline team that is 4-5 in region play entering this week.
"I've been able to locate my pitches better this year," Nielson said. "I didn't come into this year thinking I was going to win a certain amount of games. I just wanted to locate my pitches and throw strikes, and I knew that if I did that I would be successful."
Nielson found himself in a jam in his last start against Hillcrest. Skyline had a 4-3 lead, but Hillcrest had runners on second and third with two outs in the top of the seventh.
One Husky hit and the Eagles would be in a dire situation, needing a seventh-inning rally.
No need. Nielson got the last out of the inning. It's the type of effort the Eagles now expect from him.
"I love pressure situations where you need to throw a strike," Nielson said. "That's when I feel like I'm at my best."