Tyler Viza’s inclusion at No. 427 in Baseball America’s top 500 draft prospects shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who saw Desert Vista’s comeback against Brophy in the first round of the Division I state baseball tournament.

While it takes several contributors to erase a 9-1 deficit in an eventual 12-10 win, Viza’s impact can’t be denied.

He connected for a three-run home run in the six-run sixth inning and also pitched five scoreless innings to earn the win.

The Utah recruit had a great postseason to finish off a terrific senior season that saw him being named to the All-Tribune second team.

The right-hander had a 6-5 record with a 1.48 ERA with five complete games while showing terrific control with only 16 walks in 80 1/3 innings.

As good as Viza was no one in the area had a better season than Riley Unroe.

If he so chose, Unroe could rest on his laurels and still be one of the best baseball players in the East Valley.

As both a switch-hitter and a pitcher, it must get tiresome doing double the workload of other players at practice. It would be easy to cut down on that, or to reduce his two-hour weight-lifting sessions in the dead of the offseason.

But the Desert Ridge senior shortstop is not interested in being one of the best players in the East Valley or even the state. He wants to be among the best in the world. And with that, he can’t ever stop improving.

“You’ve heard the phrase, ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,’ right?” Unroe said. “Every day I go to bed, if I’m not satisfied with what I’ve done on that day and I haven’t gotten better, I know someone else has. And if somebody else has gotten better, that means someone else is making it to the big leagues faster than I am, which is my ultimate goal in life. I’ve got to work hard for that dream because I know it’s not easy.”

Heading into his senior season, Unroe set up almost-unattainable expectations for himself: a .700 batting average, 15 home runs, 60 stolen bases, 55 RBIs, 50 runs scored, no strikeouts at the plate, and no earned runs allowed on the mound.

“I hope that doesn’t come off as cocky, but... you’ve got to shoot for the moon so even if you don’t reach it, you’re still in the stars, you know what I mean?” Unroe said.

And he did end up in the stratosphere. Unroe’s quest for near-perfection lifted him to great heights this season. He finished the year batting .553 with 10 home runs, 59 RBIs, 54 runs scored and 25 stolen bases. His on-base-plus-slugging-percentage of 1.764 was the best in the East Valley, and he went 2-1 with a 2.63 ERA on the mound as the team’s closer. Unroe gave up just one earned run in the regular season before allowing a grand slam to Mountain Pointe’s Brantley Bell in the playoffs.

His ability to excel in so many different areas has made Unroe the Tribune’s Baseball Player of the Year.

Heading into the season, Unroe said the biggest knock on him was his power. He felt he had it, but as a leadoff hitter instead concentrated on finding the gaps to get on base for teammates.

He made a slight tweak this year to give his batted balls more loft, and his 10 home runs finished near the top of the state leaderboard.

He’s already committed to play for Southern California next season, but may never get there. The Major League Baseball draft begins on June 6, and Unroe’s stock continues to rise. He’s listed as the No. 56 overall prospect by Baseball America, where the signing bonus slot recommendation comes close to $1 million.

As one of the best high school seniors in the nation, Unroe knew every move he made this season was going to be scrutinized, but he wasn’t worried.

“You can’t,” Unroe said. “If you come out here worried about what other people think of you, it’s the same way as in life, you’re going to be timid. You can’t do anything at your best ability if you’re timid. You’ve got to be free. I sound like a hippie a little bit, but do your own thing and not worry about it. That’s exactly what my mindset was this year.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN. Reach Kyle Odegard at (480) 898-6834 or kodegard@evtrib.com.



All-Tribune First Team

Player School Pos. Yr. Comment
Max Schuman Arcadia C Sr. Utah commit tied for state lead in homers (12); 1.412 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage
Jack Zoellner Gilbert 1B Sr. New Mexico commit tied Schuman with 12 HR; had 45 RBI, batted .500 with 1.609 OPS
Dustin Peterson Gilbert 2B Sr. ASU commit batted .530 with 1.732 OPS, 10 HR, 39 RBI, 43 R; projected as high draft pick
Riley Unroe Desert Ridge SS Sr. POY batted .553, led state with 1.764 OPS; 10 HR, 59 RBI, 25 SB; 2-1, 2.63 ERA as closer
David Greer Desert Mountain 3B Sr. ASU commit had 1.255 OPS, 46 runs, walk-off hit in title game; 1.88 ERA, 29 K in 19 IP
Brock Hale Mesa OF Sr. Fantastic year in obscurity; batted .529 with 1.011 SLG, 9 HR, 30 RBI, 14 SB
MJ Hubbs Pinnacle OF Sr. Hit .494 with .909 SLG, 4 HR, 30 RBI as leader of potent Pinnacle offense
Nick Affronti Notre Dame OF Sr. Had .554 OBP, 5 HR, 41 RBI; best hitter for D-II state-champion Saints
Cody Bellinger Hamilton Util Sr. Dominated on mound with 4-0 record, 1.21 ERA, 35 K in 29 IP; 1.134 OPS at plate
Skyler Cohn Desert Ridge P Sr. Jaguars’ ace went 9-1 with 1.22 ERA; 4 CG, 2 SO, 46 K in 63.1 IP
Austin Schnabel Notre Dame P Sr. Led Saints with 11-2 record, 1.69 ERA, 1.03 WHIP; struck out 90, walked only 14 in 78.2 IP

Player of the Year: Riley Unroe, Desert Ridge

Coach of the Year: Brian Fischer — Helped Saints get over hump to win D-II title despite key injuries and death of brother late in season

All-Tribune Second Team

Player School Pos. Yr. Comment
Ben Rodriguez Desert Mountain C Sr. .504 on-base, .755 SLG, hit 8 HR with 28 RBI; strong arm defensively for champs
Dillon Bigcrane-Jackson Chaparral 1B Sr. Big bopper had .565 OBP, .740 SLG, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 28 BB for D-I runners-up
Wyatt Pattyson Poston Butte 2B Sr. Sparkplug batted .500 on season and slugged .852; 4 HR, 39 R
Jamie Westbrook Basha SS Sr. Pepperdine commit had .495 OBP, .953 SLG, 10 HR to cap impressive career
Jake Smith Highland 3B Sr. Gilbert All-District selection hit .419 with 1.156 OPS, 3 HR, 24 RBI
Carter Gladstone Valley Christian OF Sr. Top average (.622), OBP (.701) in East Valley; 2 HR, 40 RBI, 22 SB, 19 BB, only 1 K
Josh Moore Gilbert OF Sr. Slugger hit .423 with 1.335 OPS, 9 HR, 37 RBI; committed to Utah
Ryan Castellani Brophy OF Sr. Two-way star hit .379 with 1.185 OPS, 6 HR, 24 RBI; went 7-2 with 2.10 ERA, 55 K/60 IP
Cody Erickson Desert Mountain Util Sr. Ace of Wolves finished 6-1 with 1.65 ERA, 47 K in 52 IP; had 1.058 OPS, 8 HR 42 RBI
Tyler Viza Desert Vista P Sr. 6-5 record wasn’t great, but had sparkling 1.48 ERA, 5 CG, only 16 BB in 80.1 IP
Irvin Ruiz St. Mary’s P Sr. Went 9-1 with E.V.-best 0.94 ERA; 44 K in 52 IP

Honorable Mention

Desert Vista: Colby Woodmansee, Sr., IF; Austin Hicks, Sr., OF; A.J. Valencia, Jr., OF; Mountain Pointe: Jake Alexander, Jr., OF; Brantley Bell, Sr., IF; Cole Tucker, Jr., IF.

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