Cottonwood Heights • As two dozen boys in black jerseys and ballcaps sit in a line against the wall of Cottonwood’s baseball team building, their coach tells them he wants more.
"People ask me about how the team is looking," coach Jason Crawford says to the Colts. "I tell them we’re inconsistent."
Top returners (2011 stats)
Tyler West, first base » .394 avg, .524 OBP
Jake Marvos, catcher » .348 avg, .418 OBP
Ely Hansgen, centerfield » .345 avg, .415 OBP
Austin Hammer, pitcher » 1.93 ERA, 27 strikeouts
Hunter Smith, pitcher » 2.19 ERA, 1.43 WHIP
Inconsistent. It’s something of a dirty word in the clubhouse.
The wincing is almost audible as the team reflects on its expectations. There’s a coaches poll on the wall that predicts Cottonwood will finish fourth in Region 3 this year. Nobody on the team particularly appreciated that.
"Your mindset has to be right," Crawford continues. "It’s a gut check. My biggest challenge to you is practice as if you just lost the last game. I want you to bring it."
Despite having a young roster this season, the Colts baseball team is definitely hoping to spoil some of the preseason expectations.
It’s true — they lost a lot of star power. Carter Yagi, Brad Matson and Zach Story-Baker helped drive the team last season to a playoff run that reached Utah Valley University.
Of course, last season could also be considered a down year. A run of five straight region championships ended in 2011 when Cottonwood couldn’t beat out Skyline. The Colts are mindful of their history, and feel ready to live up to that standard.
"I definitely screw around less, and really try to work with the sophomores and juniors — try to rein them in," senior centerfielder Ely Hansgen says. "We can’t just come into the season flat. We have to have that fire in our belly."
Cottonwood baseball will definitely have a somewhat different look this year, in line with the rest of the state. The old offensive philosophy, senior first baseman Tyler West says, was to "bang away." The Colts had enough players with power to generate 227 runs last year.
But with newer, less lively BBCOR bats, the balls aren’t quite sailing like they used to. There’s more emphasis on small-ball fundamentals and smart base-running.
"We know there will be low-run games," junior catcher Jake Marvos says. "Everyone will have a more small-ball philosophy. It depends a lot on how people execute."
To come through on their own expectations, seniors such as West and Hansgen are assuming greater responsibilities. But there will be a handful of underclassmen who will also have to deliver.
Marvos is a returning starter behind the plate, and brings some stability to a mostly new pitching staff. Austin Hammer returns for his senior year after winning four games last season, but the Colts think Hunter Smith, a sophomore hurler, could be the team’s top starter.
Other underclassmen vying for other spots in the lineup have bred some good competition on the team itself — something Cottonwood hopes can rid them of their "inconsistencies."
"Competition certainly isn’t a bad thing," Marvos says. "Our guys have to leave it all out on the field, and at the end of the day we’re still brothers. It’s helped us get a lot better."
Ultimately, with the start of the season at hand, wins and losses will measure how good the Colts really are. All of them — including their coach — believe there’s more potential than others seem to see.
Now it’s just about proving it.
"I was a little upset about the preseason ranking — everyone would be," West says. "It just gives you the drive to keep working hard and always do what you can."
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