Staff photo by Eric Lusk
MANDY Escoffier and the Cowboys will take aim at the best pitching Safford has to offer in the state opener.
That’s no easy task for the Cowboys and Scorpions as they face South Region opponents in Friday’s playoff openers.
“The South is the toughest region in 3A baseball,” says Camp Verde baseball coach Mike Mier. “They play a good brand of baseball in the South.”
All four of last year’s state semifinalists in baseball reside in the South. Four of the top five teams in the latest Arizona Baseball Coaches Association rankings for 3A schools hail from the South.
Fortunately for Camp Verde, by virtue of winning the West, they won’t see one of those top teams in the first round. Instead, the Cowboys will draw the South’s number four seeded team, Queen Creek, which is ranked 10th in the state.
The Bulldogs have a 14-7 record and did not make the playoffs a year ago. The game starts at noon at the Maryvale Baseball Park, field four. Camp Verde is currently ranked ninth in the state.
Sedona Red Rock baseball, which used a sweep of River Valley last week just to get into the playoffs, will match up with South runner-up Sahuarita on Friday. The Scorpions’ game starts at 3 p.m. on field six in Maryvale.
Sahuarita actually holds the number one ranking in the latest 3A poll, though No. 2 Fountain Hills grabbed the top seed.
The South’s preeminence in softball is similar to baseball. Three of last year’s state semifinalists play in the South region.
Camp Verde will go as the number two from the West. Coach Debbi Miller’s squad will face Safford in round one on Friday at 5 p.m. at the Rose Mofford Complex, field two.
Safford advanced to the 3A semifinals last year before falling to Sahuarita.
“I don’t know much about them, but I’m sure they’ve got a good little team,” Miller said. “We’re just going to go down there and play ball. Maybe it’s better if we don’t know much.”
The South in a sense is a mega-region. It contains 12 schools split into two divisions, much like the Big Twelve or Southeastern Conference in college sports.
The West lost two teams to the South this year, Fountain Hills (state runner-up in baseball in ’03) and Higley.
Though the West was smaller this spring with only six schools, it was certainly the Wild West when it came to baseball and softball. The last week of the regular season will have Camp Verde and Sedona fans talking for years to come.
The Cowboys won a share of their first 3A region title in baseball with a somewhat unexpected sweep of Chino Valley last Tuesday and a split against Wickenburg on Friday at Surprise.
Sedona had to have several things fall into place to make state in baseball, and the Scorpions benefited from both their sweep of River Valley and the Cowboys’ great final week.
“Going into (last) week, I think every team in the region had a chance to make the playoffs,” Mier said. “After Tuesday, five teams were still playing for a playoff spot. It’s amazing.”
Softball developed into a neck-and-neck race between two teams, Camp Verde and Wickenburg. Both the Cowboys and Wranglers took 12-1 records into last Friday’s season ending doubleheader.
Wickenburg won both games by one run — and on its last at-bat each time. The Wranglers broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the seventh in game one, then plated the winning run in game two in the bottom of the ninth.
“It was some fantastic ball,” coach Miller said. “They played hard, and we played hard. A lot of it was the short game.”
The state tournament will continue on Saturday for teams that win in round one. The Final Four and championship games in baseball and softball will be next weekend.