A giant red sign hangs along the fence of the Mingus Union baseball diamond, beaming of the team’s run to the Final Four two years ago.
"If we had the pitching that year we have now," coach Brad Grauberger says, "we might have won the whole shebang."
Pitching will definitely be a strength for the Marauders this spring as they aim to make another run at region and state glory. All five starting hurlers return, including a pair of seniors who have verbally committed to Yavapai College and a junior who can sizzle the radar guns with 90 mph throws.
The Marauder mound-workers combined for a no-hitter through five innings in Saturday’s scrimmage against Sinagua. They’ll get their first live test Saturday morning at Thunderbird.
"On paper, we look really good," Grauberger said. "We’ve got a lot of depth pitching. But the schedule’s tough enough to keep us honest."
Mingus returns seven starters in all, including a trio of all-region picks from 2000 – Eli Arnett, Chris French and Pat Lawler. All three spent the fall playing on a Cubs’ developmental team, Arnett while dodging defensive linemen as the Marauders’ football QB.
Lawler, who has been clocked at 91 mph, struck out 79 batters in 68 innings last season. French and Arnett, who also pitch, led the offense with .448 and .398 batting averages, respectively.
French led Mingus with seven homers. Senior DH Mike Lyons popped five out of the park. Arnett, French, Lyons and Lawler will comprise the Marauders’ Murderer’s Row – coming up consecutively in the heart of the batting order.
"I think we’ve got a real powerful line-up, especially right down the middle," Grauberger said.
French will play first when he’s not pitching. Arnett will patrol shortstop, and Lawler will rove at first, third or in the outfield. Junior Albert Rodriguez is another top-notch pitcher, who also hit .400 last year. He’ll play third when he’s not on the mound.
Sophomore Trey Morrison returns at second base. Robby Maine, a junior, will catch. Jose Machado, a senior, will play centerfield as well as provide relief pitching. Others on the preseason roster include Jed Morrison (OF), Devlin McCarty (utility, P), Kevin Jacobsen (OF), Ammon Naylor (P, utility), T.J. Ricketts and Cody Helgison.
Mingus finished 15-10 last season, 7-3 in the Grand Canyon Region, falling to two-time 4A champion Scottsdale Chaparral in the first round of the state playoffs.
Sinagua won the region crown with the Marauders earning second. With Mingus now the veteran-laden team, and the Mustangs recovering from the loss of 6-7 seniors, the boys from Cottonwood could be the team to beat.
Tomorrow’s season opener at Thunderbird (11 a.m. start) will provide an early gauge. The Chiefs have been ranked in some early season state polls and boast a pitcher, Mike Jones, who could be the number one pick in this year’s Major League draft, Grauberger said. Jones throws 95 mph fastballs, but probably won’t take the mound Saturday, the coach said.
Of the Marauders’ 18 non-region games, Grauberger has counted nine opponents who made the state playoffs last year or are ranked this season.
Mingus will play at Tolleson on Tuesday afternoon, followed by the West Side Invitational Feb. 28 through March 3. The home opener is March 6 against Cactus Shadows. Grauberger’s group will host the Mingus Invitational on March 14-19.
Grauberger is entering his third season as head coach. Bob Young will coach the pitchers this season. John Behlow is the hitting coach, and Steve Huson is another assistant.
John Uidenich will direct the Mingus JVs, and Dennis Kitchen will coach the freshmen.