In Tuesday's Best of the West tournament quarterfinal, a veteran Sunrise Mountain baseball team taught a younger Valley Vista squad one of baseball's oldest lessons — on contending teams, defense doesn't cool off with the bats.
The Mustangs rode a shutout performance of senior pitcher Tyler Crawford and made the Monsoon pay for all six of its throwing errors in a five-inning 10-0 win.
Sunrise Mountain (7-1) had a steady stream of base runners with eight hits and eight walks. Once they got on, the Mustangs gave Valley Vista (8-4) fits with their aggressive approach.
"We felt like we could run on them and put pressure on them because when Caleb Wood is on the mound (instead of at shortstop) they're out of sorts on defense," Sunrise Mountain coach Eric Gardner said. "That was kind of our game plan for today, to force their middle infielders to play defense."
It started with senior Austin Byler, who led off with a walk, stole second and raced to third on an overthrow. Two more Mustangs walked to load the bases and junior Nick White brought two in with a double to right-center field.
Junior catcher Adam Webb's groundout allowed a third Sunrise Mountain runner to score.
In the second inning, the Mustangs capitalized on more Monsoon mistakes. After loading the bases, Wood was relieved by junior Nelson Benjamin.
Crawford brought junior Tyler Fite in on a sacrifice fly. Byler scored from third on an errant return throw to Benjamin. Senior Tony Troftgruben reached on a bloop single, stole second and came all the way home thanks to two bad Valley Vista throws.
"i was definitely upset and we deserved to get beat even worse than that. I'm glad it happened today, as opposed to during region play," Valley Vista coach Klent Corley said. "It opens our eyes to some things we need to work on. When we take off a pitch or two, or lose focus, good teams like this will get after you in a hurry and take advantage of your lack of focus. I think our guys are embarrassed with the way they competed — I know they are."
One he allowed Wood and Benjamin on to start the game and threw a wild pitch, Crawford seized command. He got out of the jam when Wood was tagged out at home and junior Freddie Jimenez got caught in a rundown.
In the next four innings, Crawford allowed only four runners to reach base. He finished with a one-hit shutout.
"Tyler did a good job today of mixing his pitches up. He's very effective when he throws the fastball in and away and he can throw the changeup and the cutter," Gardner said. "Today, he had command of all three. He's been that way all year."
With two outs in the bottom of the third, senior Steven Kane walked and hustled to third base after an errant pickoff throw. Fite drove him in with a single.
The Mustangs tacked on another run in the fourth, as White knocked in freshman pinch runner Elijah Castro. To finish the afternoon early, Sunrise Mountain loaded the bases, scored a run on Troftgruben's double and tallied its 10th run on a bases loaded walk.
Valley Vista is 2-2 in this tournament, with a consolation game coming up Wednesday. While the Monsoon's two wins — 15-5 against Centennial Monday and 10-1 over Stillwater, Okla. — showed how far this young program has come, the thorough defeats by Scottsdale Desert Mountain and Sunrise Mountain showed the major steps still needed to become a contender.
These losses, along with a 12-3 defeat by Phoenix Pinnacle on March 8, are signs of Valley Vista's stumbling block. This talented but young team seems to lack confidence against top teams with a history of success.
"We got taught a great lesson today. If you let any little lack of confidence show up, you're in trouble," Corley said. "This group has to understand that they're good. Sometimes we play Sunrise Mountain or Desert Mountain and they see the tradition that we don't have. I don't know if they realize they can play with them."
Sunrise Mountain isn't in that elite class yet, Gardner said. The tournament semifinals and finals Wednesday will give the Mustangs a better idea of where they stand.
Sunrise Mountain plays Goodyear Millennium in the first semifinal at 9 a.m. If they win, the Mustangs will go for the championship at 2:30 p.m.
"Tomorrow is a proving ground. Are we a top team in the state, or are we just a good team," Gardner said.