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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest Boys Baseball Hitting Off a Hopeful Season

Apr 07, 2016 02:40PM ● By Sarah Almond

By Sarah Almond | [email protected] 

Midvale - For the 25 players on the Hillcrest High School boys baseball team, the 2016 season is one of growth, hard work and, hopefully, some shining success. 

Though the team’s numbers are similar to years past, what’s missing on the team this year is an experienced group of upperclassmen. Of those 25 players, only three are seniors. 

“We are still a relatively young team,” head coach Gary Daniels said. “With the exception of a couple seniors, we’re probably going to start mostly underclassmen.” 

Skyler Ochs and Christian Gilliland are the only returning seniors with varsity experience. Fortunately, the team has strong junior players, like Chris Okamoto, Drew Gilliland, Colin Everett and Brendan Beagley, who are expected to carry the varsity team. 

“The key for us is going to be pitching. We’ve got some marks, but it’s whether we can get people out or not,” Daniels said. “I think we’ll be strong defensively, and if we can produce offensively we should have a pretty good season.” 

Junior Topher Gomez is going to be a key player for the Huskies’ defensive strategy. He is making his varsity debut this season as one of the team’s leading pitchers. 

“We’re hoping Topher will step in and pitch well for us,” Daniels said. 

Daniels, who was head coach at Hillcrest from 1995 to 2007, has been coaching the Huskies for the second time since 2014. With a dedicated team of young players, Daniels hopes the next few years of his coaching career will be a success. 

The Huskies recently changed regions and are now facing a schedule that pins them against notoriously strong schools like Skyline, Olympus and Judge Memorial. 

“This entire region is going to be a challenge,” Daniels said. “We could finish anywhere from last to the championship playoffs; it’s just hard to say. I think all seven teams are all pretty competitive.” 

In order to prepare for what’s sure to be a tough season, the Huskies practice close to 18 hours each week. While the players know that beating these teams will require a substantial amount of hard work and dedication, they are ultimately looking forward to the challenge.

“I think we are looking forward to a new region and playing new teams,” Daniels said. “Being 4A, we’re able to play new teams. It’s a tougher region than last year, so that in itself is going to be a challenge for us. But I think being able to play teams that are close to us is kind of a fun and exciting new thing for us. I think a change of scenery is kind of fun.” 

The team’s immediate goal is to improve every time they step on the field. 

“I also encourage the guys to focus on getting better every day,” Daniels said. “You know, be better when you leave than when you came.” 

Their ultimate goal, however, is to make it to the state tournament beginning May 17. 

“My goal is always to make it to the state tournament, because anything can happen when you’re in the state tournament,” Daniels said.   “I’ve seen multiple times when a team comes in as a four-seed, especially in a strong region like we are in, and wins the state title. We could easily finish fourth and still be very competitive.”

Daniels thinks that, along with the strong work ethic of his team members, their camaraderie as friends will benefit them on the field.

“This is a pretty close-knit group of kids actually,” Daniels said. “I like the fact that they all get along and that they all really like each other and are willing to support each other when things aren’t going great. It’s always more enjoyable when you have fun and play for more than just yourself. And most of the time you’re pretty successful too.” 

The Huskies play their last home game against Kearns High School on May 10 at 3:30 p.m.