This Desert Valley Region-Fiesta Region thing in baseball has to stop, doesn’t it? Maybe not.
The last four champions in 5A or the advent of 5A Division I last year have been won by a Desert Valley Region or Fiesta Region school. The runner-up each time also has been a Desert Valley or Fiesta squad. Hard to go against them again.
Defending 5A-I champion Phoenix Brophy returns loaded for a chance at a repeat. Ditto Phoenix Horizon with its top-flight pitching intact for another go. Both schools are members of the Desert Valley Region. And don’t forget Scottsdale Desert Mountain and Paradise Valley. Paradise Valley was a final-four team in 5A-II, and Desert Mountain was among the final six. Both have work to do to get back to the level of last year, but it’s easier to do in 5A-II.
Over in the Fiesta, Gilbert Mesquite, which made a finalfour run last year, is rebuilding. Chandler Hamilton stayed in the hunt to the final four last season and will be solid again. The Huskies will be challenged for the top spot in the region by Chandler and Gilbert. Gilbert was among the final six in 5A-I.
As for the rest of 5A-I, there are other schools to contend with. Phoenix Desert Vista and Phoenix Mountain Pointe, both 5A-I state tournament participants last year, will likely duke it out for the top spot in the 5A Central. Tempe Corona del Sol should be improved, and Tempe Marcos de Niza might have enough to contend and should be a factor regardless since the Padres compete for a state title in Division II.
The East Valley Region advanced a team to the final six last year (Mesa Red Mountain). The region champ was Mesa Mountain View. Expect the Toros and Red Mountain to be the teams to beat in that region with Mesa Dobson possibly lurking.
In 4A-I, Chaparral’s quest for its fifth straight will not come easy. The Firebirds have been hit hard by graduation and injuries, and pitching behind junior Danny Coulombe is a question mark. With a deep and talented pitching staff, McClintock looks locked and loaded for a deep run in the state tournament. Pinnacle is young but talented and could surprise some people.
Not much will be changing in 4A-II. Coronado, Cactus Shadows, Notre Dame and Arcadia — the four semifinalists last year — all return key players and will be in the hunt again.
Seton and Fountain Hills should make some noise in 3A, as should Valley Christian in 2A.
4A-I preseason top 5
1. McClintock: The Chargers want to avenge last season’s early exit from the state tournament. Lefty Jimmy Patterson highlights a deep pitching staff. Catcher Xorge Carrillo anchors the offense.
2. Sabino: The Sabercats made it to the state semifinals last season before being upended by Chaparral. Power pitcher Jerry Ahearn (5-0 last year) returns.
3. Chaparral: More questions than answers right now. Chaparral lost four pitchers from a season ago to Division I colleges and has been hurt by injuries. Shortstop Jake Schlander and outfielder Casey Lytle will be counted on to carry this team while everyone gets acclimated.
4. Catalina Foothills: The Falcons were upset in the quarterfinals by Pinnacle last season. Several talented juniors lead the way this year.
5. Pinnacle: With a new coach and a young squad, expect bumps in the road for Pinnacle. But the talented trio of Brett Nicholas, John Jones and Bryan Karraker should keep the team afloat while things get ironed out.
4A-II preseason top 5
1. Coronado: The Dons were the No. 1 seed in last year’s state tournament before getting upset in the semifinals by Cactus Shadows. Coronado returns most of its core.
2. Notre Dame: Wells Fargo 2 Region player of the year Dominic Piazza is gone, but the majority of the impact players return. Mike Greco and Torrey Jacoby lead the offense.
3. Cactus Shadows: If Jerome Pena produces at the plate and Matt Summers does so on the mound, a state title repeat is well within reach. The Falcons went into the tournament as a No. 5 seed last season but caught fire at the right time.
4. Arcadia: First baseman Max Tenney returns to lead last year’s state runnersup. Tenney batted .470 last season.
5. Sunnyslope: Solid, but the Vikings will be tested. They see Chaparral in early March and then face off with Notre Dame and Cactus Shadows in region.
Wednesday through March 3:
Scottsdale Quarterback Club tournament (various sites)
Wednesday through Monday: Adam Donnenfield tournament (various sites)
March 10-15: Central-East Valley-Fiesta tournament (McClintock and Mesquite host schools)
March 26-29: Cleats National Invitational tournament, hosted by Horizon, Brophy, Chaparral and Hamilton
April 28-May 12: State tournaments begin with 5A-I and 5A-II doubleelimination tournaments kicking off the postseason
Did you know?
• Horizon’s Tim Alderson and Kevin Rhoderick are ranked 26th and 73rd, respectively, in Baseball America’s Top 100 college prospects. Alderson has signed with Oregon State and Rhoderick with Georgia.
5A-I preseason top 5
1. Brophy: For the first time, the Broncos can be called defending champs. They have an excellent chance to repeat with plenty of leftover standouts from the 2006 title team. Shortstop Tony Strazzara, outfielder-pitcher Matt Newman and pitcher R.J. Preach are just three of a potent lineup.
2. Horizon: Pitching and defense anchor coach Eric Kibler’s latest bid for a 5A-I crown. The pitching was good enough to win last year, led by Tim Alderson, Kevin Rhoderick and Evan Foreman, all of whom return. The everyday lineup underwent some juggling, and the defense had some tough days in some big games. The pitching is good enough to contend.
3. Chandler: New coach Jon Watson inherits a team that took its lumps a couple of years ago but is now a bona fide contender with decent pitching and a powerful offense. Landis Ware and Kevin Hennessey are both talented on the mound and in the batter’s box.
4. Hamilton: Another team loaded with returning varsity experience, the question mark for the playoff-savvy Huskies is pitching depth behind senior Justin Lindsey. Three starters return who batted .400 or better in 2006. Underclassmen figure to make a huge contribution.
5. Gilbert: Lots of experience back from a team that was among the final six at state last year. Gilbert has a nice balance of hitting and pitching.
5A-II preseason top 5
1. Sunrise Mountain: Sunrise Mountain lost a 2-1 heartbreaker in the 5A-II final last year to Deer Valley. The Mustangs have their sights set on one more postseason win with six key players returning led by junior outfielder-pitcher Jaff Decker, who hit .557 and was the staff ace with a 2.00 ERA.
2. Sandra Day O’Connor: The Eagles made a very respectable postseason run with a number of underclassmen carrying the load. That experience should benefit them as they attempt to parlay a top-six finish into something more this spring.
3. Marcos de Niza: The Padres, like several other local teams, are going to be senior-loaded with a bunch of varsity players entering their third or fourth year at that level. The starting battery returns intact, with a trio of pitchers with ERAs under 3.5 with substantial innings pitched from a squad that split four games in the 5A-II state tournament. The Padres benefit from a tough schedule (5A Central).
4. Desert Mountain: There are a lot of holes to fill for coach Bryan Rice this season. That’s where residing in 5A-II helps. The Wolves return their top pitcher from last season, Merrill Kelly, but lost most of their offensive punch.
5. Centennial: The Coyotes return two of four starting pitchers and were runners-up to Sunrise Mountain in the Desert West last year. Four of the top hitters return for a team that lasted three games last year at state.
Five to watch
Tim Alderson, P-IF, Horizon: He’s already signed with national champion Oregon State and on track to be an early-round draft pick in June. He wasn’t quite as dominating last year (ERA rose from 0.13 to 0.95) as he was in 2005, but he still fanned a staggering 122 with eight walks in 80 1/3 innings. He had a .460 batting average.
Tony Strazzara, SS, Brophy: Not as much fanfare comes with Strazzara, but the thirdyear starter has displayed an all-around game for the Broncos while making sure the middle of the defense is stout. He batted .462 in 2006 with 57 RBIs.
Shaun Deisler, C, Marcos de Niza: Hit .500 last season with 13 doubles and 33 RBIs and was co-region player of the year in the 5A Central Region.
Casey Lytle, OF, Chaparral: The football team’s quarterback in the fall, those leadership skills will be counted on for a talented but young Firebirds squad. Lytle hit .470 last season.
Cody Fortney, SS, Coronado: Batted over .500 last season with 11 stolen bases and was solid defensively. Fortney will play at Grand Canyon University next year with three of his Coronado teammates.
Others to watch
5A: Logan Leonard, P, Basha; Matt Newman, OF-P, Brophy; R.J. Preach, P, Brophy; Riccio Torrez, IF, Brophy; Kevin Hennessey, P, Chandler; Landis Ware, IF, Chandler; Andrew Pollak, IF-C, Corona del Sol; Mike Galterio, IF, Desert Mountain; Merrill Kelly, P, Desert Mountain; Roy Metter, P, Desert Vista; Mickey McConnell, IF, Dobson; Jim MacWilliam, P, Dobson; Devin Fuller, P, Gilbert; Chris Reese, IF, Gilbert; Andy Workman, OF, Hamilton; Kyle Peterson, OF, Hamilton; Kevin Rhoderick, IF-P, Horizon; Tucker Rubino, IF, Horizon; Evan Foreman, P, Horizon; Kyle Brule, P, Marcos de Niza; Jeff Hibner, IF, Mesquite; Austin Woolridge, IF, Mountain Pointe; Aaron Rhodes, P, Mountain View; Riley Nielsen, OF, Mountain View; Dean Espy, IF, Red Mountain; Jon DuPuy, P, Red Mountain; Spencer Brinjak, IF, Skyline; Mike Delfavero, OF, Skyline; Jaime Rodriguez, IF, Westwood; Dan Zapata, P, Westwood.
4A/3A/2A: Mike Chilson, C, Apache Junction; Max Tenney, IF, Arcadia; Jerome Pena, IF, Cactus Shadows; Matt Summers, P, Cactus Shadows; Danny Coulombe, P, Chaparral; Jake Schlander, SS, Chaparral; Tyler Bair, OF, Coronado; Joe Jacobson, IF, Coronado; Justin McDavid, C-OF, Higley; Xorge Carrillo, C, McClintock; Jimmy Patterson, P, McClintock; Torrey Jacoby, IF, Notre Dame; Mike Greco, IF, Notre Dame; Bryan Karraker, OF, Pinnacle; Brett Nicholas, IF, Pinnacle; Brock Fultz, IF, Queen Creek; Aaron McRae, OF, Queen Creek; Devin Thaut, IF, Saguaro; Jason Demore, IF, Fountain Hills; Kip Simmerman, OF, Seton; Nathan Papadeas, OF, Valley Christian.
By the numbers
4: New 5A coaches this season — Jon Watson shifts from Queen Creek to Chandler; former Higley coach Joe Bergen steps in at Mesa; Felipe Becerra takes over at Marcos de Niza; Mike Johnson moves from Chandler to Skyline
5: Consecutive state titles Chaparral will be going for this season
8: State title-game appearances by Desert Valley and Fiesta Region schools this decade (out of a possible 14 spots)
17: Seniors Saguaro lost to graduation from last year’s squad
Mark Heller and Kyle Odegard contributed to this report.