At the onset of the prep baseball season, most contenders were identified based on whether they had an experienced, top-of-the-line starting pitcher. As we've seen this season, however, hitting has far outperformed pitching. And ace pitchers are few and far between.
At the onset of the prep baseball season, most contenders were identified based on whether they had an experienced, top-of-the-line starting pitcher.
As we've seen this season, however, hitting has far outperformed pitching. And ace pitchers are few and far between.
If pitching does ultimately decide championships, which schools have the best chance to claim state titles?
Here's a look at some of the best pitchers so far:
Jake Barrett. Desert Ridge: Barrett has come as advertised both hitting and pitching. Last week in the Jaguars' 5A Pima Region opener, Barrett pitched a shutout vs. high-flying Phoenix Pinnacle. Barrett raised his record to 5-2 and lowered his earned run average to 2.29. Sub-2.00 ERAs are the norm for aces in most years, but a 2.29 qualifies this year. With Barrett's pitching and the offense the Jaguars possess, there is no doubt they are title-winning material.
Ryan Downs, Mesa High: Downs' transfer from Chandler Basha to Mesa was supposed to make Mesa a bona fide contender in the 5A East Valley Region. The jury is still out on that, although Downs has performed well. His 3-1 record, 1.37 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 30 innings are impressive. The Jackrabbits, however, have played less than adequate defense, regardless of who is pitching. If Downs is going to have a chance to make an impact, Mesa is going to have the win the East Valley Region to qualify for the 5A-I state tournament. Its record in power-point games is 3-7, ranking it 23rd heading into today's region game with Mesa Westwood.
James Pazos, Highland: Pazos is dominating at times, a little rough on other occasions. Still, with a 4-1 record, 2.21 ERA and 44 Ks in 31 2/3 innings, he's been more than good enough to retain ace status. The Hawks are the team in 5A-I with the luxury of deep pitching. The baseball gods apparently have reconciled with the Hawks, who didn't have their ace, Devyn Rivera, due to injury last year and Pazos got a late start due to a health problems as well. Junior James Farris transferred from out of state and is 6-0 with 1.85 ERA. Freshman Cody Moffett is 2-1 with a 1.31 ERA. The Hawks don't hit with nearly the prowess of most of the other contenders, but they've pitched significantly better.
Cory Bernard, Hamilton: Bernard took about a week off from throwing, but his 3-1 record and 2.69 ERA have been huge for the Huskies as they've battled a mid-season slump. Bernard wasn't even the ace coming into the season - it was supposed to be fellow senior Matt Helm. But Helm has missed all but five games this season due to a knee injury and has yet to pitch in a game. If not for some good outings from Bernard and a sizzling start with the bats the first three weeks, Hamilton may have been in much worse shape than it is now as it battles for playoff position in the second half of the top 16 in power-point rankings.
Matt Potter, Basha: Potter has been the Bears' ace and pitched very well in that role. His most recent start April 8 was a neutralization of Desert Vista's bats in a 3-2 Bears win that ended Desert Vista's 13-game winning streak. Potter is 5-2 with a 2.24 ERA. The Bears don't swing it like the rest of the 5A Central Region, but when Potter takes the mound they have a chance to beat solid-hitting clubs.
Joey Danner, Horizon: Danner had a few good stints last year that primed him for this year. He hasn't disappointed. The Huskies will be playoff viable when Danner throws as he carries a 5-1 record, 2.56 ERA, 40 Ks and just 9 walks in 38 2/3 innings.
Darian Johnson, Skyline: Johnson is the top winner locally with 7 victories (more than half of the team's total). After that the Coyotes' pitching has been sketchy at best. Skyline will make the 5A-II playoffs despite playing in the ultra-tough Pima. Its pitching overall lags behind Desert Ridge, Pinnacle and Horizon in the region - likely the three top title contenders in 5A-II.
Jason Kalber, Chandler: After logging 17 innings and winning two games in 2008, Kalber was the top returning pitcher for the Wolves after Johnson transferred to Skyline. Kalber doesn't light up the radar gun, but he's kept the Wolves in every game he's pitched and beaten the likes of Horizon and Hamilton. He's a control pitcher who throws curves and off-speed offerings for strikes. The Wolves are in the thick of the 5A-I playoff chase.
Cole Gleason, Red Mountain: Gleason is 2-1 with a 2.80 ERA and one save. Gleason, only a sophomore, has thrown for the most part like a veteran of varsity warfare. Control at times has been an issue for Gleason, but if he and Colton Sheley stay consistent down the stretch, the Mountain Lions can climb back into the postseason chase and contend with Mountain View and Mesa for the EVR title.
Mesa Mountain View pitcher Trent Stapley's role in 2009 was likely going to be that of a closer for the Toros, but he's started and pitched longer than the normal one-inning save at times. Stapley closed out all three of Mountain View's games last week (a loss to Mesquite and wins over Mesa High and Marcos de Niza) in consecutive days. Stapley is 3-2 with a 1.28 ERA in 28 1/3 innings of work. He started two games and has appeared in 13 of Mountain View's 20 games.
BIG VENUE TIME
Tempe Diablo Stadium and HoHoKam Park get a workout this week from high school teams, which play the majority of their state tournament games at big-league spring training sites. Tempe schools played a quadruple-header Tuesday at Diablo with Mountain Pointe taking on Basha, Corona del Sol battling Desert Vista, Queen Creek facing Tempe High and Marcos de Niza sizing up Desert Ridge. Today, four of Mesa's high schools play at HoHoKam Park with Mountain View and Red Mountain squaring off at 4 p.m. followed by Mesa High and Westwood at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Those games will also be a HoHoKam day for Mesa schools with Westwood taking on Skyline at 4 p.m. and Mountain View tangling with Dobson at 6:30 p.m.
SKYLINE SCRAPS FOR SOFTBALL TITLE
Mesa Skyline has never been a threat to win a region title in softball. Competing in a 5A-I region most of the time with Red Mountain and Mountain View has made that next to impossible. But the Coyotes, now in the 5A-II Pima Region, have a reasonable chance to make noise this year. The Coyotes are 2-0 so far in region play, but face Scottsdale Horizon and Phoenix Pinnacle a combined four times the last two weeks of the regular season. Skyline has qualified for state only once in its decade of existence in softball.
"I think with more kids playing year round and kids doing a lot of hitting ... there aren't many easy outs."
Jason Grantham, Mesa Red Mountain baseball coach, on 2009's hitting explosion
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Desert Ridge's Steven Bier hammered his 11th home run of the season, a three-run shot against Phoenix Pinnacle last week. Bier's offensive numbers are a .500 average with 37 runs scored and 39 RBIs.