Coach John Watson will admit his Queen Creek Bulldogs were a bit apprehensive about moving up from 3A baseball to 4A Division II this season. Not anymore.
In the past 11 days, the Bulldogs have knocked off two of the state’s best 4A-II teams, Coronado and Arcadia.
“Being new to 4A, we didn’t know how well we could hang,” said Watson, in his second season as Queen Creek’s coach. “I don’t think our kids thought they could beat the good teams.”
The Bulldogs didn’t just beat the good teams, they whipped them. First, the Bulldogs beat topranked Coronado 11-1. Then they beat No. 3 Arcadia 12-5. Earlier in the season, the Bulldogs also topped Notre Dame, ranked second in 4A-II.
“The players are starting to believe in each other,” Watson said.
Leading the Bulldogs have been senior outfielder/pitcher Dominic Gamboa (a .507 batting average), junior second baseman Brock Fultz (hitting .437) and junior center fielder Aaron McRay (.433 and 28 RBIs).
The recent big victories have raised the Bulldogs’ record to 13-10 overall and 5-3 in the East Sky Region. Since they are ranked 11th in the power points, they appear to be headed to the 16-team state tournament.
“We know we can play with anyone,” Watson said.
Injury woes for 5A-II squads:
Desert Mountain and Paradise Valley, currently the No. 1 and No. 2 teams respectively in the 5A-II power-point rankings, have lost key players with the state tournament five days away.
Desert Mountain’s top pitcher much of the season and its cleanup hitter, Mike Dufek, is out for the season with an injured pitching elbow. The Wolves just got Merrill Kelly back last week from injury. Kelly likely will combine with sophomore Brad Douthit as the team’s 1-2 punch at state.
Paradise Valley, which lost standout R.J. Etchebarren early in the season, may get him back late this week for the postseason. But the Trojans have lost leading hitter Ryan Carlson and his .418 average and six homers due to a hamstring injury. Both Carlson and Etchebarren are seniors.
Pedersen gets USA U-18 invite:
Red Mountain forward Kayla Pedersen has been invited to USA basketball’s tryouts for the junior national team in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 16-19. Pedersen is one of approximately 30 players nationwide to get an invitation. Twelve finalists will be selected and remain in Colorado Springs through June 27, when the official roster will be announced.
Former Jackrabbit signs: Former Mesa High forward Michael Crowell has signed a letter of intent to play at Idaho. Crowell played at Central Arizona College last year. He averaged 21.7 points a game and 11.3 rebounds per contest.
Crowell, at 6-foot-7 and 210 pounds, helped Mesa to the 2004 5A state boys basketball title. He averaged 12.7 points and 5.8 rebounds his senior season for coach Shawn Lynch.
Getting healthy at the right time:
Desert Mountain coach Rick Sharp has one player finally close to full strength and another who will likely be back for a possible second game of the stat e tournament.
Junior middle infielder Whitney Phillips has endured shoulder problems most of the season and has been limited to designated hitter and second base. Lately she’s been able to play shortstop in addition to hitting with authority. She went 4-for-4 with eight RBIs last week in a win over Xavier.
Christy McDannell, who suffered a broken arm in a game in early March against Red Mountain, is expected to resume catching duties this week. She will likely be cleared to play Monday. The Wolves will enter the 5A-II tournament as one of the top four seeds and have three-year varsity veteran Lauren Kemp ready to help them shoot for the title.
- Staff writer Les Willsey and Mark Heller contributed to this report.