The 2014 high school season has begun, and we’ll mark the occasion by breaking down the teams in Division 1 by looking at the top teams in each section.
Sandra Day O’Connor: The Eagles certainly look like the cream of the crop here, with 3 D1 signees returning on the mound (Cameron Ming, Nikko Ortega and Corey Wilson) and D1 guys Greg Saenz and Marco Burgarello manning infield spots. Add in 3B/ RHP Degan Harte and Noah Kelly (who will see time behind the dish) and things look pretty rosy. In all, SDO returns 70% of the innings pitched in 2013. The challenge will be replacing offense, as 50% of the at bats from last season have graduated. If Ortega, who didn’t contribute much in 2013 due to arm issues, is a significant contributor on the hill, they will be very tough. This team went 29-4 in 2013 and is a strong contender to be there at the end.
Liberty HS: Coach Jonn Freitas returns to the high school ranks, and he takes over a squad with some legit talent. Junior SS/RHP Tyler Wyatt is one of the top 2 way players in the state. Junior Rudy Karre is a top athlete as well. The Lions make the jump to Division 1 this year, but they look to be in position to compete right out of the chute.
Valley Vista: Head Coach Mark Flatten has quietly built a very solid program in Surprise, and the Monsoon could improve on last year’s 25-10 record. They return 50% of last year’s at bats and 60 % of innings pitched. Junior 3B/RHP Koty Fallon didn’t play last year due to transfer issues, he should be a big addition. Shortstop Isaac Gonzalez can pick it, and keep an eye out for junior OF/LHP Terrence Robertson, who moved in from Illinois….he can really run and is very athletic.
Pinnacle HS: Coach John Casey took a heavy hit to graduation after last year, but OF Gerard Hernandez returns, and he’s a premier bat that can turn games in a hurry. The middle infield was strengthened considerably when Kobie Foppe arrived at semester break as a transfer. Catcher Jacob Weiss, Trevor Colceri and Tyler Townsley all saw a lot of time last season.
Mountain Ridge HS: New Coach Lance Billingsley inherits a squad that only went 9-14 a year ago, but has a chance to be markedly improved. Senior RHP/SS Blaze Bohall will lead the way, but he’s not the only mound threat. 6-5 junior RHP Justin Revels shows a ton of promise. Sophomore lefty Chase Sandman is savvy beyond his years and has a live arm with 3 legit pitches. If all 3 meet expectations and junior Harry Gard builds on his sophomore year, the pitching should be solid. Offensively a lot of key contributors were lost to graduation, but half of the at bats return with another year of experience.
Mesquite HS: Head Coach Jeff Holland is the master of “woe is me”, but his teams are always in the mix. He took a super young squad a year ago and won 21 games, and that team returns 81% of the plate appearances and 97% of the innings pitched from a year ago. The Wildcats have 2 front line arms in witch-like lefty Matt Heibult and RHP James Harrington, a 90 guy with a bugs bunny change up that should be outlawed. Junior OF Cole Valletta is a physical specimen and athletic. The speedy Nick Daley returns in CF, sophomore Parker Holland stepped up big time as a freshman and should be a big contributor, and Catcher Tyler Pollett is one of the better defenders at the position. The ‘cats will make some noise in 2014.
Mountain Pointe HS: Coach Brandon Buck returns most of his lineup that scored a ton of runs a year ago. Shortstop Cole Tucker is arguably the best defender at the position in Arizona and has added a lot of strength and speed to his frame. The Pride outfield of Bryce Redaja, Ernie De La Trinidad and Jake Alexander should be the state’s most potent trio offensively. Solid receiver Christian Bittar returns behind the dish, and 1B/DH Taylor Martin swings it with some pop. The question will be on the mound. Senior Jorge Carrazco showed flashes of being a dude as a junior. Junior lefty Garvin Alston looked good in the fall and senior RHP Diego Leal has transferred in from rival Desert Vista where he had a solid junior year with a strikeout per inning. Alexander will take a turn on the hill as well. If the pitching can hold up, the offense should provide plenty of support.
Desert Ridge HS: Coach Bryan Rice takes over for the Jags, who went 26-6 a year ago. 57% of the at bats return, but Ridge must replace 55% of the innings from the pitching staff of a year ago. Obviously the graduation of Riley Unroe is the big blow to the offense, but senior 3B Jayden Eggiman will pick up much of the slack. The Jags are solid at SS with Cam Richins. OF Ryan Foster started a year ago. 2 way guys Caleb Rodriguez and Dylan Cook will shoulder most of the load on the hill and be counted on for offense as well. Sophomore Ian Raidy is a very athletic young player who got significant experience a year ago.
Hamilton HS: Coach Mike Woods and the Huskies went 21-7 a year ago, but 70 % of the at bats were lost to graduation. The good news is that returning SS Austin Filliere, OF Ryan Peep, and Justin Wylie form the nucleus of a solid group. Keep an eye on 1B Jake Boston, a senior with a sweet swing and a lot of pop. On the mound, senior RHP Kent Hasler, junior RHP Nick Ohanian, and live armed soph RHP Zane Strand show a lot of promise.
Perry HS: The Pumas return 67 % of last season’s plate appearances, but have to replace 60% of the innings pitched a year ago. Catcher Brady Weiss is one of the state’s better offensive and defensive backstops. Juniors SS Austin Bull and 2B Jeremy McCuin form a top notch double play tandem. Kyle Huckaby and Brady Hettinger return in the OF. Junior LHP/1B Tyler Watson will need to be a force as a 2 way guy, and Huckaby and Joey Bostaph will need to be effective on the mound as well.
Corona del Sol: The Aztecs must replace 80% of last season’s plate appearances, a difficult task to be sure. CF /LHP Nathan Chokey is the top returner. SS Tim Coen is a nice looking player. The Aztecs have a group of talented but unproven young players who will need to perform. CDS will have to really pitch to be effective. Senior LHP Garrett Poole is healthy and has a lot of feel on the hill. Head Coach Dave Webb and staff are high on Jr. RHP/IF Eric Schwalbe. Senior Nathan Birecki and Chokey should see a lot of time on the mound as well .
Chaparral HS: The Firebirds won 23 games and were a pitch away from another state title last year, and 65% of the at bats return this season. Junior SS Nick Guaragna was solid last year as a soph. Returners Kyle Palmer , Tanner Bollig, Collin Gabel, Andrew Shaps and Colter Kilgour all filled starting spots a year ago and figure to up their production this spring. 1B/DH Marshall Forest is a deep threat as well. The ‘birds are deep in arms with Shaps, senior RHP Spencer Gilbert, senior LHP/OF Jack Peck , junior RHP/3B Sam Messina, and Palmer all expected to see a lot of time.
Horizon HS: Coach Eric Kibler went young last season and it should pay off this spring. The Huskies feature two top RHPs in senior Trevor Horn and junior Chris Isbell. Sophomore Josh Bristyan got a lot of seasoning as a freshman at SS. Juniors George Jennings, Matt Kroon and sophomore Ryan Bricker all were on the field a year ago. Senior Zach Taylor should provide some pop in the middle of the order.
Mesa Mountain View: Over the years, the Toros have historically been a very senior-laden team. Last season, however, Coach Mike Thiel bucked the trend and gave significant time to underclassmen. The result is a 2014 lineup that will have a lot of experience. Seniors Ronnie Adair, Kyler Kocher, Connor Wise, Chase Anderson, Chase Rich and junior Brent Bailey all started for most of the year. Senior Alex Traylor will be a solid offensive player at 1B. 6-5 senior RHP Spencer Moran is one of the better arms in the state. Kocher and Wise are both guys that should help on the hill as well. This should be one of the better MVT teams in recent years.
Brophy Preparatory: Coach Tom Succow and the Broncos went 19-10 last season, but almost a third of the ABs from last year graduated and replacements must be found. Senior Ryan Castellani will lead the way on the hill and will have scouts at all of his starts. He’ll also provide the long ball to the lineup. Nolan Weinstein should take over at SS, and he had a solid junior year playing 3B. Christian Maggi returns in the outfield. Senior Garrett Rupp needs to provide significant innings on the hill for the Broncos, and senior LHP Jackson Sipes is a guy we like.
Tolleson HS: We sing his praises every year, but last season was one of the best coaching performances we’ve seen from Scott Richardson. The Wolverines won 25 games and return 73% of the innings pitched and 72 % of the plate appearances from a year ago. T Town won’t overpower you, but seniors Elias Lucero and Victor Ortega are strike throwers who get a ton of ground balls. Seniors Billy Wilson and Xavier Terrazas both hit over .400 a year ago. Tolleson will be playing in May again in 2014.
St. Mary’s HS: The Saints went 24-4 last season, and return 58% of their at bats from a year ago. Unfortunately, gone are 2/3 of the innings pitched. Coach Mike Collins has a jump start on replacing innings, with junior RHP Antonio Coronado back after averaging over 1 K per inning as a soph. Seniors Oliver Henninger and Eduardo Carrillo are back and sophs Luis Paez Leyva and Christian Chavez both started last season.
Millenium HS: New Coach Ryno Bethel inherits a group that graduated the majority of its lineup and pitching staff after a 17-12 season. The junior class is strong, led by infielders Chaz Mighells and Gio Lopez, as well as LHP Avery Weems, LHP Grant Smith, and RHP Jon Abney. Senior OF Matt Olgin caught my eye a couple of times last season for his play.
Next: A look at Division 2.