New coach breathes new life into Alta baseball
May 07, 2018 12:03PM
● By Ron Bevan
Alta junior Eddie Hill delivers a pitch in a recent Hawks boys baseball game. (Ron Bevan/City Journals)
After a year in turmoil that included players transferring and coaches leaving, it appears the Alta Hawks have found the man to right the ship that is Alta baseball.
The Hawks found themselves thrust into a need to find a new coach early this year. But they only needed to look to the closest school, where they snatched up Daron Connelly from Corner Canyon High School.
But rebuilding the once-vaunted Alta program is not going to be an easy task. Nearly all of the experienced players are gone and the team is being built virtually from the ground up.
“A lot of players either graduated last year or transferred to new schools,” Connelly said. “There was a lot of turmoil and players wanted to move to other schools. We have only three seniors that are contributing to the team this year.”
As an example of how little experience remains on Alta’s squad, of the players currently wearing an Alta uniform, they only went to the plate to bat 27 times last year. [Office1] The rest of the playing time was taken by players no longer on the team.
“We know this isn’t a year we measure by wins or losses,” Connelly said. “But we are competing in every game and we are putting in the time to get better.”
Connelly is no stranger to the beginnings of a program. He first moved to Utah from Arizona in 2014 to begin the baseball program at the then-new high school in Draper. His first year was difficult as far as wins, but by 2016 he had the team playing in the state tournament and finishing third.
Another deep run in the state playoffs came in the 2017 season and Connelly’s coaching prowess was being heard.
“At the end of the season last year I was given the opportunity to become one of the athletic directors at Corner Canyon,” he said.
While it was a position he always hoped to have, the move required that he step down from coaching.
And that may have been where Connelly’s story would end up taking him, but somehow fate always intervenes. This time it came in the form of former Alta baseball coach Gentry Beckstead, who abruptly quit in February. Alta had to scramble to get a coach into position and Connelly was high on their list.
It was his own family that convinced him to take the coaching reins at Alta.
“I have children that graduated from Alta and three that are attending currently,” Connelly said. “I discussed it with my kids. They said they didn’t think I was done coaching and that I should apply.”
Part of his decision to come to Alta rested on a few conditions. Connelly wanted to continue to teach and he also wanted to continue in some capacity as athletic director.
“I knew (Alta Principal Brian) McGill from when we worked together at Corner Canyon,” Connelly said. “I reached out to him and asked if I could be head coach and possibly be given the chance to become athletic director when Morgan Brown retires. Although Brown has no plans to retire soon, I felt good about our talk and so I applied.”
But the turnaround time for when Connelly was named head coach and the beginning of the season was very short. The coaching staff was in place just two short weeks before the season was to begin.
“We came in not knowing the kids nor their talents,” Connelly said. “We came in really just observing at first. We went to work and tried to figure out where we were at and what needed to be done. We feel we are making loads of progress when you consider how this season began.”
The weather wasn’t much help either. The Hawks didn’t even get a chance to get onto a baseball field until March 9, the day the team’s bus pulled up to their first game in a tournament in Mesquite, Nevada.
“We were looking for a little warmer weather to get the season started,” Connelly said. “We were able to play eight games over three days while down there. It helped us to see who we were and what we had. It helped lay the foundation for the rest of the season.”
With all the transfers, Alta is relying on the leadership this season of just three seniors. Only two of them, however, were on the team last season. Blake Tempest and Garrett Ross are the returning players. Kason Caldwell is in his first season as a Hawk.
Tempest is primarily an outfielder. He has played in all three outfield positions but has of late found a home in left field.
“It has been an adjustment period for him to the new coaching change, but he came in with a pretty good attitude,” Connelly said. “He has done everything we have asked of him and has been great from day one.”
Ross plays mostly second base and also fills in as the designated hitter due to his prowess with the bat.
“He is pretty much the anchor for us in the No. 3 batting position in the lineup,” Connelly said. “He has had a couple of perfect games from the plate this season.”
Caldwell is a transfer from Jordan High School. He is the No. 1 pitcher on the team, but can also be found at nearly every other position on the field, from the infield to the outfield.
“Caldwell is a utility player who can play wherever we need him,” Connelly said. “His pitching is sound and he is able to keep his pitch count low enough for us to save our other pitchers. He pitched a complete game in our game with Brighton.”
Alta has a good group of juniors, including Zack Willits at first base. A few sophomore players are also on the team as well as freshmen.
“Our intent was to come in and
reestablish the culture at Alta,” Connelly said. “There is tradition here. We
are trying to rebound. We want to be competitive, but we want to build it the
right way and not rush it. Hard work, perseverance and all those things will
pay dividends in the end. We are getting the players to buy into this
philosophy and we are seeing results both this year and beyond.”