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The City Journals

The Grizzlies season of unintended consequences

Jul 13, 2020 01:47PM ● By Greg James

Unlike the 10 seniors on the Copper Hills roster, sophomore pitcher Zack Wallin will have a chance to play baseball again for his school. (Photo courtesy of Dave Reeder.)

By Greg James | [email protected] 

As COVID-19 spread across the country, sports were canceled. The NCAA granted its spring season athletes an additional year of eligibility, major league baseball scaled back its draft and many high school seniors have made for an abundance of college-ready athletes. Some schools are canceling scholarship offers, leaving many wondering whether they might have played their last game.

Copper Hills had 10 seniors on this year's squad, four of whom had signed letters of intent to play college baseball.

One senior slightly impacted is Brayden Taylor. At press deadline, he is still on track to attend TCU, but the amount of competition for his position has significantly increased.

“I consider him the best player in the state,” Grizzlies head coach Joel Sundquist said. “Luckily, he has not been affected. Although he would have had the opportunity to hear his name in the major league draft but because of COVID, it robbed him of that opportunity.”

Kyle Hoffman had signed to play at College of Southern Idaho, Cameron Ostmark at Treasure Valley, and Braden Campbell still had several opportunities. All have had some form instability.

“It was hard,” Sundquist said. “I think the biggest thing for my kids and me was how up in the air it was for such a long time (the season). It was suspended for two weeks, then it was ‘let's wait until after spring break’ then school was canceled and everything got canceled. It was an emotional roller coaster for us. We had a really good ball club. We were playing really well before the suspension. A lot of the kids felt robbed, that is an OK feeling to have, but they were all super resilient and they knew in the grand scheme of things they understood why so much precaution was being taken.”

The Grizzlies flew to Phoenix, Arizona, for a spring tournament right before Gov. Gary Herbert made his decision to cancel the high school sports season. It was while they were there playing games that the season was eventually suspended.

“We were the last team in the state to do any overnight travel,” Sundquist said. “We rained out two days and squeaked a game in on Thursday; we played a double header on Saturday. Then everything was cancelled, and we flew home.” Sundquist said.

After graduation, Utah's Premier Game Baseball organized the Last Chance Tournament, held at several Utah County schools. Copper Hills was invited to participate. 

“Our feeling evolved; at first the kids thought they would just go and have fun and enjoy ourselves, but getting a group of highly competitive young men together they started to care really quick,” Sundquist said. “The game was on; we tried to figure out a way to win the thing.”

The Grizzlies placed third overall. They defeated defending state champion Pleasant Grove and Bingham before losing to Riverton. Sundquist said there were signs of rust from the long layoff, but they played well enough to have an impact.

“We had a chance to win the thing,” he said. “We had huge wins against some outstanding programs. There were several teams that did not get invited to play in this thing. We now have a program that these players and their families can be proud of.”