It’s the year of the returning pitcher locally. Good news for Chandler Hamilton, Mesa Desert Ridge, Gilbert Highland, Mesa High, Mesa Red Mountain, Gilbert High and Mesa Skyline. Bad news if your staff is lacking a true ace or your untested hurlers can’t step up.
Defending 5A-I state champion Hamilton is buoyed by the return of Arizona-bound pitcher-infielder Matt Helm, who won eight games with an earned-run average of 2.09.
Desert Ridge, which fell short of a 5A-II title last season, has senior Jake Barrett, a 10-game winner, who fanned 75 hitters in 59 regular-season innings last year.
Mesa High picked up transfer Ryan Downs, a University of Arizona signee, who will give the Jackrabbits a solid 1-2 with two-year letterman Chris Wert. And defending Fiesta Region champ Gilbert Highland, a final-six team last year, has ace lefty James Pazos healthy from the get-go to lead their staff. Pazos has signed with ASU.
Mesa Red Mountain’s Derek Mendoza takes the No. 1 spot on the Mountain Lions staff, his third year throwing for the varsity. Mendoza was 6-4 last year with 3.71 ERA as Red Mountain’s No. 2.
In 4A-II, Queen Creek ace Travis Eggert (4-4, 3.89 ERA)) is back as the Bulldogs hope to make a run at the region crown.
Hope springs eternal for those who have untested staffs.
Horizon piecemealed a staff last year around injury and newcomers and still won in a post Tim Alderson-Kevin Rhoderick season.
PRESEASON TOP 5
1. Hamilton: Defending state champions return two of its top three pitchers and six from lineup.
2. Brophy: Regular state title contenders should have improved pitching from last year’s early exit.
3. Highland: Fiesta region champs return top two pitchers (Pazos and Jeremy Blare) and enough experience to make a title run.
4. Corona del Sol: Aztecs return their top four pitchers and top five hitters from last season
5. Red Mountain: Preseason favorites in East Valley Region return six starters
1. Horizon: Back-to-back state champs (one 5A-1 and 1 5A-II title each) need to retool pitching. Wasn’t a problem last year.
2. Pinnacle: A very young lineup overall last year that reached state could be quite formidable this year.
3. Desert Ridge: Led by veteran Jake Barrett and a trio of other solid players, Jaguars will be in the hunt.
4. Deer Valley: Only obstacle to a title run last year came in form of Horizon. SKyhawks should manage Northwest Region.
5. Tolleson: Expect another solid year from the Wolverines, who may be able to overtake Sunrise Mountain in Desert West Region.
1. Chaparral: Lost most of its pitching, but the Firebirds always reload.
2. Cactus: Right-hander Andrew Walter highlights list of returners for 2007 semifinalists.
3. Cactus Shadows: The Falcons can always hit, and they get top two pitchers back from last year’s tournament team.
4. Sabino: Much of last year’s offense is gone, but pitchers Will Holbrook and Ray Finley will keep the team in games.
5. Canyon del Oro: The Dorados always seem to be in the mix come tournament time. They’ve made the quarterfinals the past three years.
1. Notre Dame: The Saints were nipped in the title game for the second straight year in 2007. Plenty of talent returns as they try to get over the hump.
2. Mingus: Defending champs return top two pitchers from last season.
3. Arcadia: Joey DiMichele and company won’t be content with another quarterfinal finish.
4. Amphitheater: A first round upset in last year’s tournament will serve as motivation.
5. Seton: The Sentinels went just 15-14 last year, but peaked and made the semifinals. A bunch of talent returns.
Scottsdale Invitational: Feb. 25-March 7
Warrior-Aztec Invitational: Feb. 26-March 7 at Westwood and Corona del Sol high schools
Desert Vista Invitational: Feb. 27-March 7 at Desert Vista High School
East Valley-Fiesta Region Invitational: March 14-19 at Mesquite and Skyline high schools
Victory Classic: March 16-19 at Highland and Desert Ridge high schools
Big League Dugout National Tournament: March 16-19 at Horizon HS
State tournaments: 5A-I and 5A-II May 2-May 16; 4A-II May 9-May 16
Players to Watch
1. Jake Barrett, Sr., P/IF, Desert Ridge: Won 10 games last year, hits for average and power, ASU-bound
2. Matt Helm, Sr., P/IF, Hamilton: Batted .490 last year, won eight games as staff ace; Arizona-bound
3. Ryan Downs, Sr., P, Mesa: Transfer from Chandler Basha goes to top of Jackrabbits rotation, fanned 83 last year
4. Derek Mendoza, Sr, P/IF, Red Mountain: .400 hitter with power moves up to No. 1 pitcher
5. James Pazos, Sr., P, Highland: Power thrower from the left side, headed to ASU
Other players to watch
Basha: Michael Benjamin, Jr., IF; Josh Melendez, Sr., IF; David Miczek, Sr., OF; Matt Potter, Sr., P;
Chandler: Mackenzie Handel, Jr., OF; Jason Kalber, Sr., P; Markus Kalber, Sr., IF; Justin Rodriguez, Sr., IF;
Desert Ridge: Steven Bier, Sr.; Jerry Kleman, Sr., IF.; OF; Alex Villar, Sr. IF.;
Dobson: Kevin Behnke, Sr., SS; Austin Emelity, Jr., IF.; Gilbert: Tyler Kamtz, Jr., OF/P; Thor Nelson, Sr., IF/P; Cody Repenning, Sr., IF/P; Hamilton: Cory Bernard, Sr., IF/P; IF; Ryan Casillas, Jr., OF; Tyler Kem, Sr., IF/P; Justin Rosales, Sr.; Highland: Jeremy Blare, Sr., IF/P; Jaime Garrido, Sr., IF; Zach Gulley, Sr., OF;
Higley: Connor Crowther, Jr., P; James Brendlinger, Jr., IF; Matt Ross, Jr., C;
Mesa: Jordan Adair, Jr.; P/C; RP; Chris Wert, Sr.; P/IF.; Mesquite: Austin Carr, Sr., IF/OF/P; Zach Davies, So., IF/P; Steven Harrington, Sr., IF; Rocky High, Jr., OF/P; Mountain View: Connor Knoles, Sr., OF; Anthony Reda, Sr., IF.; Kenny Stevens, Sr., C; Perry: David Pederson, Jr., P/1B; Connor Jones, Jr., OF; Aaron Amaro, So., IF; Queen Creek: Josh Fultz, Sr., IF; Alonzo Martin, Sr., IF; Eddie Malone, Jr., IF; Travis Eggert, Sr., P; Red Mountain: Mickey Caldwell, Sr., IF; Mark Jarrett, Sr., IF. Seton: Casey Simmerman, Sr. OF; Steven Eddy, Jr., OF; Nicholas Spirakus, Sr., P; Cody Kollman, Sr., OF. Skyline: Trever Benjamin, Sr., SS; Darian Johnson, Sr., P/IF; Pablo Mendoza, Sr., P; Kyle Schoonover, Jr., 1B;
Westwood: Marshall Davis, Sr., P/IF; Carlos Arzaga, Sr.,
Did you know?
Last year’s local region champs were: Gilbert Highland (5A-I Fiesta Region); Mesa Mountain View (5A-I East Valley Region), Chandler Basha (5A-I Central), Scottsdale Horizon (5A-II Pima) and Scottsdale Arcadia (4A-II East Sky). The 5A-I state champ was Chandler Hamilton; 5A-II state champ Scottsdale Horizon and 4A-II state champ Cottonwood Mingus.
A couple of new coaches make their debuts this season. Jason Grantham takes over at Red Mountain for Henry Faccio and Rick Surles for Mike Moore at Chandler Valley Christian.