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Prep baseball: Juan Diego seniors eager for last shot at a title

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( Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Juan Diego Catholic High School catcher, Gabe Juarez, bats during practice at the Draper, Utah high school Tuesday May 7, 2013.

By Aaron Falk

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published May 07 2013 05:35PM
Updated Dec 7, 2013 11:31PM

Draper • Gabe Juarez’s knee brace was so big he could not fit his baseball pants over it, so he was wearing shorts and keeping score the day Juan Diego last won the Class 3A state baseball title.

Alex Gudac’s broken leg kept him from even getting to the ballpark.

They both recall their happiness for their teammates that day in 2011, but their injuries left them adjacent to the glory. So as the two Soaring Eagle seniors prepare for one last state tournament, Juarez and Gudac are looking for a championship they truly can call their own.

"It was a bummer," Gudac said as he stood on the Juan Diego diamond Tuesday, exactly two years from the day of his accident. "That was my shot to prove myself."

Gudac was the team’s starting second baseman as a sophomore in 2011. But he crashed his dirt bike and broke his leg the weekend before the tournament began. Gudac was riding with friends in a familiar spot but wasn’t paying attention and overshot a jump. He snapped his tibia and fibula on the flat landing.

Gudac was stuck at home the day of the championship game. His coach called him when it was over and gave him the play by play. Gudac saw the final score flash across the evening news and joked that the 13 runs his team scored, the same as his jersey number, was his way of being there with them.

Still, he felt disconnected.

"It was sad, but you learn from your mistakes," he said. "You just come back stronger."

Juarez’s injury came on the diamond. The catcher simply caught his spikes on the ground, twisted his knee and tore some cartilage. He rehabbed from surgery only to see his knee tear again just days before the tournament his junior year.

So Juarez was missing from the lineup and Gudac still was finding his game again after an eight-month layoff when Juan Diego lost an opening-round matchup with Snow Canyon last season. Nevertheless, the team battled its way through the losers bracket to earn a rematch with the Warriors in the double-elimination tournament.

The Soaring Eagle captured a 2-0 victory in the first game of the finals.

But needing another win to hoist the trophy, Juan Diego fell short.

That memory has the Juan Diego seniors all the more eager for another shot this year.

"I can’t wait for it," said Juarez, now the team’s third baseman. "My sophomore year I felt like I got robbed. Junior year, coming so close and having to sit out was even worse. This year, hopefully we’ll put it all together."

Juan Diego’s record is not as pristine as some of its competition heading into the tournament. The Soaring Eagle suffered a three-game slide late in the season before rebounding to win their final three contests.

Gudac and his teammates will have plenty of competition this time around.

The Snow Canyon Warriors are back. So is a Desert Hills team that went undefeated in Region 9. The Stansbury Stallions have a team of seniors hungry for a title. And the Spanish Fork Dons, despite losing stars Kayden Porter and Brady Corless, look just as strong.

"We had a difficult little stretch. We haven’t lost three games in region since I can remember," Juan Diego coach Troy Davis said, pointing to the outfield wall that won’t display a new region title for the first time in a dozen years. "But to learn how to lose is another lesson. They have a chance now to write their own legacy."

afalk@sltrib.com

Twitter: @aaronfalk

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