1A Baseball Preview: Bagdad looks to repeat

April 29, 2019 by Andy Morales, AZPreps365

(Jose Garcia/AZPreps365.com)

The Sultans of Bagdad were on top of the world. The year was 1964 and Lawrence Aragon had just led his team to a 2A state championship over Benson, avenging a loss in the championship game to the Bobcats the year before. With back-to-back championship appearances, the proud mining town must have felt like it was part of a whole new world, but the magic carpet ride would prove to be a heartbreaking one until the program broke through once again last year.

Runner-up finishes in 1988, 1991, 1992, 1997, 2007, 2009, 2016 meant generation after generation would come close to another title, only to see it slip away.

“In the 15 years I have been part of the coaching staff, we have been in the championship game four times,” head coach Brent Callen said. “Last year we finally closed the deal and won it. That was the first baseball championship since 1964 I think.”

The 2016 runner-up finish was followed by a semifinal finish in 2017 and the team left no doubt last year by beating Superior 10-0 in mercy-rule fashion to take home the 1A state trophy. Even better, the team outscored their four playoff opponents 40-0. Better than that? The Sultans went 20-0 in games that mattered with an incredible 177-28 scoring margin, or simply, an average victory margin of about 9-1.

Bagdad is 14-2 in power-ranking games this year and ranked No. 1 in the state heading into the state playoffs and Callen is understandably hesitant to pick out one or two players responsible for the success.

“For this team it doesn't seem right to call out key players,” Callen added. “We have relied on the team approach. On defense all positions are capable of making outstanding plays, whether that is running down fly balls in the outfield or diving stops in the infield. On offense, we pick each other up. When the top of the order is struggling the bottom guys picks it up. On the mound we have given the ball to two guys in the big games. Tony Ventura held Chino Valley scoreless for eight innings and he beat Ben Franklin in the Chandler Prep tournament. Connor Watson was on the hill when we beat Superior, giving up just two runs.

“The story for our team this year is it is a team effort. If you look through our stats you don't see that one or two guys with high averages, big home runs or RBI numbers. Everyone takes a turn and steps up when others struggle.”

Mogollon (12-2) comes in ranked No. 2 but the two teams haven’t met since Bagdad beat the Mustangs 9-0 in the quarterfinal round in 2009. The Mustangs have lost in the first round four years in a row after failing to make the playoffs in 2015 but this could be their year.

“Our playoff history the last number of years has been pretty much “one and done,” head coach Reed Porter said. “Last year we played a very good Superior team in the first round and lost 4-3 on a walk-off hit in the bottom of the 7th inning. Superior went on to become the 1A runners-up. I think that gave us some confidence coming in this year knowing we competed with a great team.”

Like all small schools, the Mustangs depend on a multi-sport athletes and this year is no different.

“We have a great group of kids playing on the varsity squad this year that really enjoy the game of baseball and love to compete,” Reed added. This is a group of kids that were highly competitive in football, basketball, and wrestling this school year. Most importantly, this is a group of kids that enjoy being together and love competing together. “

Rounding out the top four seeds, Ray (15-2-1) comes in seeded third and Superior (13-3) is seeded fourth. As mentioned before, Badged beat Superior in the state championship game last year and Superior beat Ray in the semifinal round. Superior won the 2017 championship and Ray was the 2015 runner-up.

This year, Bagdad beat Superior 7-0 on March 28 and Superior split two games with Ray.