West Valley Preps’ 2017 baseball preview

Compiled by Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

This week marked the beginning of the high school baseball regular season. West Valley Preps asked Northwest Valley coaches to take a look at their teams:

Cactus’ Cole Fritz (#23) reacts after hitting a double against Sahuarita April 29, 2016 at Surprise Stadium Spring Training Fields in Surprise. Fritz is back for his senior year with the Cobras. (Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps)

Cactus Cobras
4A West Valley Region
2016 Record: 14-15 (First round of Division III playoffs)
Coach: Greg Virga (second year as Cactus head coach)
Top Returnees: Jake Sharp, Sr., P/1B, (.326, 16 RBI); Cole Fritz, Sr., 2B/SS, (.371, 16 RBI)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? We made a huge culture shift from individuals to a team first approach. Last year’s changes should prove fruitful this season. We have four pitchers throwing low to mid 80s and could be dominant. Emphasis on “could be”.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? Pitching may or may not be a weakness. We are still learning the mental part of the game. We have the tools as a pitching staff but we don’t always have command. We walk way too many. If we throw strikes we should be good. If we walk people we will have a long year.
Who are your team leaders? Jack Pagone is our most influential leader. Hard worker both on and off the field and not afraid to push his teammates to work harder.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad that could make an impact?
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season? The schedule is much more challenging this year. It may hurt us somewhat in the playoff goal but we embrace the challenge. To be above .500 and make the playoffs. In my second year we are still reshaping the program. We have come a long way but still work to do.

Centennial Coyotes
5A Northwest Region
Coach: Vince Castaldo (first year as head coach).
2016 Record: 16-15 (Division I second round)
Top Returnees: Tanner Bland, Sr., OF (.314, 21 RBI); JT Stanley, Sr., C (.237, 17 RBI)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? Seven returning starters from last year.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? Improve the offense over last year and pitching depth.
Who are your team leaders? Our four senior returnees – Jake Castaldo, JT Stanley, Tanner Bland and Aaron Forrest.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad that could make an impact? Daniel Gamboa, Michael Keevins and Michael Martinez
Tristen Storms, a senior pitcher-utility guy, was with us for a short time last season before a season ending injury. He is back and better than ever.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season? Pitching depth and improved offense.

Deer Valley Skyhawks
5A Desert West Region
Coach: Greg Rice (second year at Deer Valley)
2016 Record: 10-18 (Did not reach Division II playoffs)
Top Returnees: Dakota Nordine, Sr., 3B (.291, 14 RBI); Wesley Hamen, Jr., 2B (.325, 10 RBI)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? Our team’s best attribute is our infield.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? Our team needs to have our pitching staff step up and get deep into games for us to be successful. Our pitching staff is led by Austin Stewart sr, Brett Shadley jr and Dominic Samora jr
Who are your team leaders? We have three returners in Dakota Nordine sr., Wes Hamen jr, SS, Alex Robertson sr 1b
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad who could make an impact? Logan Livingston soph. 2b and Dominick Soph, C
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season? This a great question and one we have talked a lot about. We have seniors who have not been to the state tournament and we need to play team baseball with great energy and effort. We have to believe in each other and know we can do anything we are willing to work hard for.

Dysart Demons
4A Black Canyon Region
2016 Record: 14-15 (Reached second round of Division IV playoffs)
Coach: Nicholas Rizzi (third year)
Top Returnees: Brody Williams, Soph., P/IF (.317, 9 RBI); Tyrese Churchwell, Sr., OF (.345, 16 RBI).
What is your team’s best attribute? Speed, athleticism, and young talent.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? The team’s pitchers must consistently throw strikes and allow the defense to pick up the ball and make plays.
Who are your team leaders? Xavier Churchwell, (So.)
Newcomers to the varsity squad? Will Skaggs RHP (Fr.), Jayden Martinez INF (Jr.), Eduardo Chavez P/OF (Sr.)
What needs to happen for the team to make the state tournament? 2016 was a year of progress for Dysart. Last year’s team won ten more games compared to 2015, qualified for the state tournament, and defeated 9-seeded Thatcher to advance to second round of the state playoffs. With four returning starters and talented newcomers, Dysart could again reach the state tournament if young pitchers consistently attack the strike zone and the defense minimizes mistakes. Dysart baseball has a bright future as nearly 60 kids tried out for the team and the addition of a freshman squad should buttress the overall program.

Ironwood Eagles
Coach: Sean Hegarty (sixth year at Ironwood)
5A Metro Region
2016 Record: 9-17 (Did not reach Division II playoffs)
Top Returnees: Travis Strickler, Jr., CF (.364, 10 SB, 20 RBI); Nick Jackson, Sr., 2B/SS, (328, 12 RBI)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? The best attribute of the team this year will be our defense and pitching. The young men in the program have worked very hard to improve defensively as well as pitching to contact while limiting walks.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? We need to improve offensively and execute at the plate and on the base paths.
Who are your team leaders? This team is full of leaders who all want the same outcome. They all push each other to be their best at practice and during games.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad that could make an impact? Sophomore Jake Burns (Catcher), Freshman Israel Vasquez (SS/2B), Junior AJ Culbertson (P/1B)
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season, or reach the goals the program has set? Play good team defense, execute our offensive plan, and pitch to contact.

Joy Christian’s Rylan Collins (#2) fields a line drive for an out against Buckeye in a Division IV semifinal May 13, 2016 at Goodyear Ballpark fields. Collins returns for his senior season. (Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps)

Joy Christian Eagles
Coach: Klent Corley (fifth year at Joy Christian)
2016 Record: 33-5 (Division IV runner up)
Top Returnees: Anthony Quattrocchi, Sr., P/3B (7-2, 1.41 ERA, 108 K in 64 1/3 IP, .424, 43 RBI); Zach Martinez, Soph., P/IF, (11-0, 1.17 ERA, 83 K in 54 IP)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? We return a core group of players that have been with us and had success since their freshman year. Our pitching staff returns with more experience and growth from last year. We believe our pitching and defense will give us good opportunities to compete throughout our schedule.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? We will need to continue to look to improve in all areas, but specifically on the offensive side. We hope our guys have taken the jump we think they have from last year at the plate.
Who are your team leaders? We have three seniors who have been starters since freshman in shortstop/pitcher Rylan Collins, catcher Joey Martinez,and 3B/pitcher Anthony Quattrocchi. We have some other players that we believe can lead as well in center fielder Nick Ayres and and Pitcher/infielder Zach Martinez.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad that could make an impact? We return almost all of our team from last year. Freshman Ronan Kipp will make an impact on the mound and at 1b.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season, or reach the goals the program has set? We will need to look to improve every day and get caught up in the process. Even though we return the majority of our team, it’s important for our guys to know it is a new year and a different team with leadership and chemistry. It’s a fun group to coach and should be an exciting year for us.

Liberty Lions
5A Northwest Region
Coach: Chris Raymond (first year at Liberty).
2016 Record: 11-17 (Did not reach Division I playoffs)
Top Returnees: Grant Lung, Sr., SS/2B (.325, 13 RBI); Isaiah Montoya P/1B (2-6, 4.99 ERA, .357, 13 RBI)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? Pitching and defense.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? Offensive approach.
Who are your team leaders? Grant Lung, Tyler Hajjar and Derek Legeza.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad that could make an impact? Returning 22 players from the varsity roster last year.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season? We need to prepare to be successful, play as a unit, and play within ourselves.

Mountain Ridge Mountain Lions
6A Desert Valley Region
2016 Record: 26-6 (Division I runner up)
Coach: Lance Billingsley (Fourth year)
Top Returnees: Tommy Lowe, Sr., P (9-2, 1.84 ERA, 63 K in 57 IP); Trent Turner, Sr., OF (.397, 12 RBI)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? Pitching will be our strength. We have a strong staff led by Tommy Lowe, Hayden Sandman, Nolan Ruff, Sam Pearson and Matthew Liberatore.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success?  We lost 11 seniors from last year’s state runner-up team. Nine of those 11 went on to play college baseball. That creates a huge void in our lineup. This young team will have to come together very quickly and each player will have to know what their role will be for that day’s game.
Who are your team leaders? Captains Nathan Gawelko, Trent Turner and Hayden Sandman. Again, our pitchers tend to be our leaders.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad that could make an impact? Preston Godfrey, Zack Rodgers, Mason Piert, Jack Dieckman and many others.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season, or reach the goals the program has set? Our young team and players will really have to buy into what our program represents. Your best every day is the standard. We, again, are very young.  We really only have two-plus months for the season. Maturity and responsibility have occur quickly and without hesitation.

Peoria Panthers
4A West Valley Region
Coach: Shawn Sullivan (second year).
2016 Record: 3-17 (Did not reach Division III playoffs)
Top Returnees: Cameron Torres, Soph., IB/P (.324, 5 6 RBI); Peyton Ivy, Jr., CF/P (.325)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? We feel that we have a pretty deep pitching staff that will be able to handle the change in pitch count rules very well. We also feel that we have a lot of team speed that could give us an advantage in some games.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? As with many high school teams we need to continue to improve our hitting and continue to learn how to manufacture runs when we can.
Who are your team leaders? Peyton Ivy is our starting CF and one of our RHPs. He is someone the coaches can look to when we need someone to lead by example and to get the job done. Peyton has been great to coach these past two seasons and we wish we had him for another season.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad who could make an impact? Brock Hall, JR (LHP) Brock will throw a lot of games for us this year and we expect him to make an immediate impact on the mound.
Daniel Innes, JR (C/UTL) Daniel will play all over for us. He will catch a good amount of time, but we also feel comfortable putting Daniel at any position in the infield.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season, or reach the goals the program has set? We need to continue to work at the plate and compete in every game until the last pitch. If we are able to do those two things we feel that we will be able to have a successful season.

Shadow Ridge Stallions
2016 Record: 12-16 (Did not make playoffs).
Coach: Charles Summers (first year).
Top Returnees: Victor Fraire, Jr., OF (.430, 17 RBI); Cade Kennedy, Jr., C (.361, 19 RBI).
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? We have a well balanced team with some speed
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? We will need to play more consistent on defense
Who are your team leaders? Seniors Adam Bronston and Alex Cozzolino
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad that could make an impact? We have several returning players, not sure if any new players will contribute
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season? We will need to pitch more consistently and improve on defense to make a run at the state playoffs.

Sunrise Mountain’s Tyler Pruitt (#7) fields a ground ball for an out against Chandler Saturday, April 30, 2016 at Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria. Pruitt is now a junior. (Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps)

Sunrise Mountain Mustangs
4A West Valley Region
Coach: Eric Gardner (19th year at Sunrise Mountain)
2016 Record: 18-12-1 (Reached second round of Division I playoffs)
Top Players: Danny Partida Sr., OF (.349, 4 RBI, 23 SB); Timmy Mendez, Sr., P (3.9 ERA, 4-2)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? Pitching. We return 6 senior pitchers and 3 junior pitchers. Last year we played in Division 1 and our returning players got valuable experience against the best programs in the state.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? Some potential in experience on defense
Who are your team leaders? 12 Seniors this season that will lead the way.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season? We expect to a solid team for the upcoming season and have expectations to make the playoffs and make a run at a championship. Our top three expectations are – Excellence both off and on the field, Play every game like it’s the final game and win the last game. We move down to 4A so our schedule isn’t as tough as it has been in the past.

Willow Canyon Wildcats
5A Northwest Region
2016 Record: 14-11 (Did not reach Division II playoffs).
Coach: Randy Maville (three year)
Top Returnees: Mitchell Ortega, Jr., IF (.396, 12 RBI); Erik Ramos, Sr., C/IF (.323, 10 RBI).
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? The teams best attribute is that the players play together as a team. They come to the field every day work hard and have fun. They have built a great “brotherhood”. I look forward to watching these players have success on the field. A great bunch of players to coach.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? To be successful this season, we will need to get solid pitching and play good defense. As well as be able to execute on offense. The players expect that challenge and can’t wait for the season to start.
Who are your team leaders? Team leaders are our returners from last season, three seniors, Lester Acoba, Erik Ramos and Nick Nankivell as well as two juniors Nolan Lovett and Mitchell Ortega. They have sent the foundation to take our team to the next level … our team will follow their lead.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad that could make an impact?
We have many newcomers to this years squad that will make an impact on the teams success this year. They have bought into the system…this team will be fun to watch as the grow together and get better on a daily basis through the entire season.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season? In order for us to reach the state playoffs and reach our goals this season, we will need to stick together as a family/team … be there for one another when we struggle. Try to be as consistent on defense and offense as possible. We look forward to a fun and great season.

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