5A state baseball preview

April 26, 2019 by Les Willsey, AZPreps365

Could this Casteel lineup from April bring the Colts from 3A to 5A to claim a state title come May 14? Casteel is one of eight teams new to 5A this season vying for the baseball crown. (AzPreps365 photo)

The newcomers to 5A - there are a bunch of them - seem to have the upper hand as the conference's state baseball tournament kicks off on Saturday at sites around the Valley and Southern Arizona.

Of the top 8 seeds - five are new to the conference. Top-seed Nogales (up from 4A), No. 2 Horizon (down from 6A), No. 3 Casteel (up from 3A), No. 4 Desert Mountain (up from 6A) and #6 Millennium (down from 6A). Other teams in the 16-team tournament who competed in different conferences last year are No. 10 Cactus Shadows (up from 4A), (No. 15) Gilbert (down from 6A) and Sunnyside (down from 6A) making it half of the field.

A few notes and brief glance at Saturday's matchups:

Regions qualifying the most teams: Northeast Valley (5 - Desert Mountain, Horizon, Cactus Shadows, Paradise Valley and Notre Dame Prep); San Tan (4 - Casteel, Campo Verde, Williams Field, Gilbert); Northwest (3 - Sunnyslope, Apollo, Sunrise Mountain); Southern (2 - Nogales, Sunnyside); Desert West (2 - Millennium, Verrado).

Who's hot: Desert Mountain has won 16 of its last 17 games. Cactus Shadows has won 13 of its last 14 games. Nogales has won 12 of its last 14 games. Horizon has won 12 of its last 14 games. Casteel has won nine games in a row. Millennium has won 11 of its last 13 games. Sunnyslope has won 9 of its last 10 games. Apollo has won 11 of its last 14 games.



#16 Sunnyside vs. #1 Nogales: Nogales, 4A state champs the past two years, answered the challenge of transitioning from 4A to 5A by gaining the No. 1 seed. Nogales psoted a 22-4 record and got an invite to the Boras Classic in mid-March. Coach Oscar Favela has several impact players led on offense by outfielder Ricky Maytorena (.475 avg), shortstop Jorge Bojorquez (.410) and third baseman Chuy Lopez (.348 with 25 RBI). Two pitchers stand out -- Alec Acevedo (5-0, 1.30 ERA) and Gerardo Martinez (5-1 and one save). Sunnyside was the #21 seed and and pulled off an upset of #12 Ironwood Ridge, 13-0, in a run-rule game. Gerard Grijalva tossed five shutout innings and improved to 4-1 and lowered his ERA to 1.29.

#9 Apollo vs. #8 Verrado: Apollo fell short of winning its region title, but made the tournament for the 11th time in the last 13 years. The Hawks outlasted #24 Goldwater's 9-8 in a play-in game to advance to state. Top players are seniors Manny Macias, Guillermo Rivera, Noah Obtea, Omar Rocha and Alex Palma. Verrado is competing in postseason for the ninth time in the last 10 years. It was 5A runner-up last year. Rocky King and Cameron Hood have been a huge part of the Vipers' success this season keeping them in games on the mound. Hittingstandouts have been Jake King and Gillis Champagne. Verrado starts one senior in what has been a solid retooling year.

#12 Sunrise Mountain vs. #5 Campo Verde: Campo Verde battled for the San Tan Region title to the end, but fell to pitching-rich Casteel in the end. Campo is in the playoffs for the sixth year in a row at three different levels. The Coyotes are led by senior pitcher-outfielder Cameron Pehrson, who led the region in most all hitting and pitching categories. Leadoff hitter and sophomore Jayden Smith has been a table setter all season. Sunrise Mountain advanced to the tournament with a 3-0 play-in game win over Sierra Linda.

#13 Paradise Valley vs. #4 Desert Mountain: Like Horizon, Desert Mountain has followed the bouncing ball between 5A and 6A. Second-year coach Erik Kehoe guided the team to its region title edging Horizon for the top spot. Seniors Anthony Caraballo, Aiden Storm, Zack Stewart and Paul Sachen have paced the senior-dominated squad. Infielders Wes Kath, a sophomore third baseman and junior second baseman Elijah Henning have made their presence felt. Paradise Valley finished in the middle of the pack in the Northeast Valley Region and advanced to state claiming a pitcher's duel victory -- 2-1 over Cienega in the play-in round.

#14 Notre Dame Prep vs. #3 Casteel: Casteel survived the rise from 3A (semifinalist last year) to 5A this year quite well,  thank you. Some evidence is the No. 3 seed. Coach Matt Perisho has run out a nice left-righty pitching duo of sophomore southpaw Isaac Rehfield and senior Tanner Keeley to keep scores low. This is the first year the Colts have put a senior class on the field. Top position players fueling the offense are seniors Eli Ludwig (shortstop) with a .400 average and the team's best defender. Senior first baseman-outfielder Marcus Lucas has been  productive in the middle of the order. Notre Dame finished fifth in the seven-team Northeast Valley Region, but split 12 region games and advanced with a 6-2 play-in game win over Higley. 

#11 Williams Field vs. #6 Millennium: Millennium's 21-5 record is its best ever overall and earned it a top-8 seed. Senior infielder-pitcher David Enriquez is a do-it-all type. He led the Tigers in hitting (.438 avg., 31 RBI) and is 4-1 with a 0.53 ERA amnd 52 Ks in 40 innings. Senior Alex Figueroa (.397, 19 RBI) and junior Trevor Baugh (.448, 19 RBI) have excelled at the plate. Williams Field was in the thick of the San Tran Region race early on, but faded by not beating Casteel and Campo Verde down the stretch. The Blackhawks managed to qualify for state with a 3-0 play-in victory over Marana.

#10 Cactus Shadows vs. #7 Sunnyslope: Sunnyslope is led by Drew Bond, who has performed equally well at the plate and in the field. A reliable pitcher is Josh Combs, who usually gives the Vikings a chance to win when he takes the hill. Senior Ben Wallace has been steady hitting in the middle of the order. Sunnyslope starts just two senior.  Cactus Shadows is senior-led and moved up from 4A with a respectable campaign. Power-hitting Payton Mcgregor has launched 12 home runs. Seth Martin is batting .375 and Cole Caruso logs in at .350. Matt Bohnart has been the Falcons' bulldog on the mound with 68 Ks in 37 innings .

#15 Gilbert vs. #2 Horizon: Horizon has done a lot of jockeying fromr 6A to 5A, 5A-I to 5A-II etc. over the years. This year its down from 6A to 5A. New coach and Huskies' alum Jeff Urlaub received a stellar year from senior Kody Huff. Huff has pitched, caught and played shortstop and leads the team in every offensive category. Tony Sortino has also had a big year offensively. The pitching staff as a whole has a 2.50 ERA with with the arms of Sam Buchkowski, Sam Page, Christian Jacob and Tanner Scheub doing the work. Gilbert, which also moved down from 6A to 5A, was on its game in Wednesday's play-in contest besting host Raymond Kellis, 8-3. The Tigers scored eight runs in the final two innings to erase a 3-0 deficit.