Prep baseball: California trip helped spark Riverton
Anaheim, Calif., is home to The Happiest Place on Earth, but Riverton's baseball team had little to be happy about on its visit earlier this spring.
The Silverwolves went 1-4 against California teams in the Lions National Invitational tournament in late March and early April. Though the results didn't go Riverton's way, the experience set up the team for success when it really counted.
The losses helped Riverton realize it would need to learn how to close games in order to be playing in late May.
"We were trying to find ourselves," coach Jay Applegate said. "We were either tied or leading every game in the sixth inning, and to come out 1-4 opened our eyes a little bit. We needed to finish some games.
"We came back here and won a lot of one-run games, and I feel that California trip helped prepare us to finish some of those close games out."
The Silverwolves won 15 of their next 18 games after the tournament, including eight of 10 in games decided by two runs or fewer, and played themselves into title contention last week.
Riverton exited the state tournament with consecutive losses to Bingham and Layton after reaching the semifinals of the double-elimination tournament, but it still delivered one of the most successful seasons in the school's 13-year history.
"We felt like we had a pretty good shot, but it just didn't fall our way, I guess," said senior pitcher Jimi Dixon, who will play at Salt Lake Community College next season.
Its 20 victories were second only to the 2008 team that went 22-5, a team that also reached the state semifinals unscathed before bowing out with back-to-back defeats.
But Riverton also claimed its first region title since back-to-back first-place finishes in 2008 and 2009 and beat eventual 5A champion Bingham twice in three regular-season meetings.
"Obviously with a lot of seniors, our goal was to win [state]," Applegate said. "As I talked to our players coming in, whenever you get into the final four in any sport, they are all good teams. When you get into that setting, you're going to have to make plays, but you also need a little luck. Might need a break or a call here or there."
Draper, the staff ace with a 7-0 record, Dixon and fellow starter Jake Barton are among a class of nine graduating seniors, but Dixon expects the Silverwolves to build upon this year's success next spring.
The pitching-rich Silverwolves should return three talented arms in juniors Ashton Montoya, Mason Cook and Trevor Bradley, the last of whom pitched in a playoff loss to Bingham.
Offensively, Riverton is expected to return a talented junior class that includes shortstop Trevor Peterson, who hit better than .400 from the leadoff spot, and catcher Joe Barlow.
Riverton won 20 games this season the second-most in school history and won a region title for the first time since 2009.
The Silverwolves were loaded with talented pitching, including senior ace Tanner Draper.
After a March/April trip to California, Riverton win 15 of 18 games, including eight of 10 decided by two runs or fewer.