Small ball suits Mountain Ridge at Valley Vista

Valley Vista’s Tyler Schoen (#5) greets his teammates at home plate after hitting a two-run home run against Mountain Ridge Friday, March 10, 2017 at Valley Vista High School in Surprise. (Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps)

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Mountain Ridge baseball may not be as impressive as its 2016 version, but in some ways their coach is more comfortable with scrappers than sluggers.

At fellow Northwest Valley 6A squad Valley Vista, the Mountain Lions scored runs on a double following a wild pitch, a sacrifice fly and a error the sent the runner home from second.

Little things accounted for three of the team’s four runs, and that — plus a complete game from senior Nolan Ruff — was enough for a 4-2 win against the Monsoon.

“We lost nine college baseball players and 11 seniors. We have spent this first month playing 12 games. I don’t even know what our record is,” Mountain Ridge Coach Lance Billingsley said. “It’s always a process to figure out what role each kid has. Going into Hamilton next week, we have a pretty good idea of where we’re at. We have a good approach at the plate. We’re able to play a little bit more the way I like to play baseball and not wait for a Matthew Dyer or Cameron Cannon to do their thing.”

Mountain Ridge (9-2-1, 6-0 regular season) trailed 2-1 entering the fifth inning and pieced together a pair of runs. Senior Hammer Madera led off with a single back up the middle and freshman Travis Warriner bunted him over then took first on an error.

Valley Vista (6-3, 3-2) was a bit too slow to turn a double play. Junior Jared Kampf followed with a game-tying RBI single to right field.

Monsoon ace Tyler Smith entered in relief and an international walk loaded the bases. Senior Josh Sandoval lifted a sacrifice fly to break the tie.

“In these type of games the team that’s going to come out on top is the one that makes less mistakes. We made some crucial mistakes in the fifth inning. We didn’t execute the bunt play or a pickoff play. Then we had a big error in the infield,” Valley Vista Coach Ernesto Ortiz said. “Also, they battled with two strikes to get a few of those runs in.”

Warriner opened the scoring in the second after junior Jacob Robson singled, stole second and swiped third on a wild pitch. The freshman smacked an RBI double to the corner in right field.

The visitors tacked on an insurance run in the sixth after Robson singled and stayed at first when an interference call nullified his stolen base. Valley Vista had him in a rundown but the throw to second was high and the junior slid in safely.

A fielding error allowed Robson to take two bases and score.

Conversely, the Monsoon received most of its attack in one swing. Senior Jared Lang hit a two-out single back up the middle in the bottom of the second.

With two strikes, senior Tyler Schoen held off on a breaking ball and lofted a two-run homer over the left field fence. Schoen added a single in the fifth.

“We need to figure out the offensive side but it was nice to see Tyler Schoen get going. He’s been struggling early on so it was good to see him sit back on a breaking ball with two strikes and hit it over the fence,” Coach Ortiz said.

Mountain Ridge’s Nolan Ruff (#3) throws a pitch against Valley Vista Friday, March 10, 2017 at Valley Vista High School in Surprise. (Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps)

Those were the only three hits Ruff allowed in seven innings. He walked three but only allowed one runner in scoring position in the final five innings.

Though overshadowed by senior Tommy Lowe and junior Matthew Liberatore, Ruff has risen for bullpen staple to third reliable starter this season.

“Nolan is always around the strike zone and he controls four pitches. He’s as good as anybody we have on the staff. He was my big reliever for the last half of last year. What he does is different than most kids at this level,” Coach Billingsley said.

Coach Ortiz also showed confidence in his No. 3 starter, senior Michael Sears. He allowed two runners in each of the first two innings but settled down for unblemished third and fourth innings,

Cal State-Fullerton bound Smith took over after four and a third, but Coach Ortiz said he will not hesitate to give fellow seniors Dylan Chellini and Sears as much responsibility as his ace.

“Our pitching is our strength. Every time those guys take the hill they’re going to give us a chance to win and they did that today,” Coach Ortiz said. “We have confidence in all our guys — Tyler, Michael and Dylan. We felt really confident with Michael on the hill and he gave us a chance to win.”

Though Mountain Ridge tied previously unbeaten Scottsdale Horizon 12-12 Thursday, the way that tournament game went buoyed the growing team’s confidence as it seeks to match or exceed the 2016 team’s third place finish and the 2015 team’s runner up status.

“Yesterday was as rewarding a game as we’ve had all season. We know we can play with everybody even though they’re the ‘No. 1’ team in the state,” Coach Billingsley said. “We had them 9-2 and put in guys who haven’t pitched much. They came back and you expect that from the No. 1 team in the state. We took a lot of learning out of that.”

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