The driving force behind that Ahwatukee Sting's 18-and-under baseball team's success is pretty simple.

The roster is made up of a bunch of players who love the game, but for whatever reason haven't been able to make an impact on their respective high school teams.

Some of them endured hard-luck injuries. Others never made it off their freshman or junior varsity squads to the varsity team. Or they were late bloomers and the game comes easier to them now.

One thing is clear - all have made the most of this second chance.

The Sting went 17-0 in Pony League action in Arizona this season to advance to the West Zone regional tournament starting Saturday at the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif.

The tournament runs through Tuesday with the champion advancing to the Pony baseball World Series in San Jose, Calif., to be held Aug. 6-10.

"We all want to show we can play," Ahwatukee Foothills resident and Brophy Prep senior Nick Smith said. "We either got cut or didn't really do anything with our high school teams. This is our chance to prove we are pretty good, too."

The team grew out of Jared Popkins' desire to continue playing after getting a taste of coaching.

The recent Desert Vista graduate was helping his dad, Mike, coach a younger Sting team when he asked him to create a place to play for older kids.

"They started coming out of the wood work," Mike Popkins said. "There are so many kids, who for whatever reason, never got a shot in high school and still love to play the game. We put it together and it has been one of the more fun teams I have been around in my 10 years of coaching.

"They are constantly picking each other up and there is very little, if any at all, negative comments. They are just playing for the love of it. We just happen to be winning all of the games as a by-product of the great attitude."

The 13-team roster includes 12 Ahwatukee Foothills residents and one from Mesa (Dallin Haycock of Mesa Mountain View).

Some of them are heading off to college in the coming weeks while others will be continuing their high school careers at either Desert Vista or Brophy Prep in Phoenix.

The success on the field is hard to pinpoint.

Three players were asked what their best attribute as a team was and they gave three different answers - offense, pitching and resiliency.

They will need all three heading into Saturday's action, which begins with a noon start against a team from Southern California in the 10-team tournament that includes teams from all of the western states.

The elder Popkins thinks the Sting have an advantage heading into the tournament because of their pitching depth. He said they have two main starting pitchers in Desert Vista graduates Steve Palestino and Dickman along with four or five dependable relievers.

"We know the competition is going to be at a different level," Popkins said. "We played some good teams here in Arizona, but these are the best teams from around the West Coast. If you have good pitching at this level, you can dominate and I'll take our pitching against just about anyone's we've seen."

With that said, regardless of what happens in the upcoming tournament these guys have succeeded in showing that they can play at a high level.

"No one can take away our undefeated season," Desert Vista junior Jacob Halaby said. "We proved we are a pretty good team and we see what we can do in California."


Name           School          Grad year
Sean Davis Desert Vista 2012
Chris DePriest Desert Vista 2011
Austin Dickman Desert Vista 2010
Zachary Elwell Desert Vista 2013
Greg Goodman Brophy 2011
Jacob Halaby Desert Vista 2012
Dallin Haycock Mesa MView 2011
Tommy Jewett           Brophy 2010
Ryan Johnson Brophy 2010
Steven Palestino Desert Vista 2010
Jared Popkins Desert Vista 2010
Corey Saager            Desert Vista 2011
Nick Smith Brophy 2011

*Coaches: Mike Popkins, Scott Dickman, Steve Palestino

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