Last baseball season ended in a big dog pile in the infield.
That’s about as good as it gets. Or is it?
Mountain Pointe baseball coach Brandon Buck isn’t so sure as the Pride enters the year as the returning big-school champions.
“We expect to make a run and repeat as state champions,” he said. “We have a lot of experience coming back with loads of sophomore talent.”
The Pride, who were state runner-ups the year before and have made at least the semifinals in three of the last four years, will face a difficult task in repeating as Arizona hasn’t had a back-to-back champion in the biggest classification since Hamilton pulled it off in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
Mountain Pointe not only lost a great senior class but the field is going to be more difficult as the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s (AIA) re-do is in place and Division I has 59 teams (about double of the old Class 5A Division I), which include former Class 5A Division II powers Chaparral, Horizon, Perry and Desert Mountain.
There is going to be some great baseball being played in May under the new format.
Instead of the 16-team double elimination of years past, the postseason will be a 24-team field (top four from each section —12 teams — automatically qualify, the other 12 by power points) with the top eight seeds getting first-round byes.
Once the tournament is down to the Elite Eight it becomes a double elimination tournament.
The Pride has the talent to be right there with anyone.
It starts with first baseman/outfielder Joey Curletta, who is being pursued by Arizona and Vanderbilt, as he looks to repeat last season’s impressive breakout year of a .445 batting average, 21 home runs and 52 RBIs.
He won’t be the only power supply as Scott Kingery (.505. 10 HRs, 52 RBI) and Brantley Bell (.395. 12 doubles) will be counted on to continue the Pride’s bashing ways of the last few years.
The pitching will come from Kyle Detwiler, who threw 23 consecutive scoreless innings over the summer, Connor Conant, Curletta and others.
Desert Vista hopes to be one of those teams that challenges the Pride as both teams play in Division I, Section III and face each other on March 26 and March 29.
The Thunder have been on runs like the one Mountain Pointe is on currently as it made three state titles games from 1999 to 2001, with bookend state titles.
They haven’t been as successful the last two seasons but made the state semifinals in 2005, 2007 and 2009. The talent is in place this year to make a run after missing out on the postseason on the final game of the season a year ago.
It starts with senior first baseman/pitcher Hunter Rodriguez, a Utah recruit, and junior outfielder Colby Woodmanse (.390, 9 doubles, 5 HR, 20 RBI). The left-handed Rodriguez hit .288, but makes his best contribution on the mound as he has won eight games over the last two years.
Senior third baseman Tyler Adams and senior catcher/outfielder Zach Steigerwald will also be counted on to keep the Thunder playing at a high level.
Desert Vista coach Stan Luketich has a good feeling about how the players carry themselves.
“I like the way this group approaches the game, the way they work and they seem to care about each other,” Luketich said. “It’s fun to come to practice.”
Something has to change after two straight losing seasons after that 2009 semifinal appearance.
“I don’t know that we have a particular strength over another,” Luketich said. “I do know they want to work, and hopefully we get better each day.”
Horizon Honors, which plays in Division III, Section II, expects to make a run at .500 this year after finishing 9-12 under Kevin Burdette.
If the Eagles are going to make it they will have to depend heavily on senior Galen Geislinger, junior Josh Wikoff, junior Sean Broderick and sophomore Jake Connell.
“We want to be better at the end of the season, both physically and mentally, than we are right now,” Burdette said. “We have the right chemistry, attitude and work ethic to get it done.”
The Division III postseason is a little different in that all five rounds are single elimination, although the top eight still get first-round byes.
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