This baseball season gets an "A" all the way around
Though none of our local teams got to hoist any state championship hardware, the spring high school baseball season still should be considered a rousing success.
Mingus Union captured its fourth straight region title, won 27 games and shed what many called its first-round state playoff monkey.
Sedona Red Rock erupted over the final month and rode hot pitching and hot hitting all the way to the Class 3A semifinals.
Camp Verde earned its first ever region championship in 3A baseball and made it back to state for the third consecutive year.
It’s hard to argue with that resume.
Of course, many will say Mingus underachieved because this year’s seniors – eight strong – failed to produce a state championship or Final Four appearance before graduating.
But that label would be grossly unfair to attach to this group, which has played together since Little League and helped give the school one of its best four-year stretches in history.
All told, the Marauders have won 105 games since players like Drew Coffey, Corey Lay, Paul Vocca and Scott Wilcox arrived on campus. They’ve only lost four contests to region foes, including zero this spring and zero in 2002.
And as for the first-round playoff "curse" that folks have bantered about in recent years, remember that Mingus is 3-3 in first round games since 1999. That’s batting .500 – not too shabby.
The biggest problem the Marauders have is bridging the competition gap between Northern Arizona baseball and the type of 4A baseball played in the Phoenix and Tucson valleys.
The Grand Canyon Region, with opponents out of Flagstaff, Payson and Page, just doesn’t provide Mingus the type of day-in and day-out competition it would get from a league like the East Sky, Skyline or Wells Fargo.
This season, especially, the GCR was in a down mode. Nearly every team was rebuilding, and Mingus essentially looked like a varsity team playing a JV schedule.
That makes for fun afternoons for fans and stat-keepers but it doesn’t do much to get you ready for a seven-inning playoff battle like the Marauders faced Wednesday in Tucson against Catalina Foothills (a 5-3 loss).
If scheduling and logistics weren’t an issue, Mingus would do well to petition to play in a different region in baseball. Prescott, a Final Four team this season and the 2002 state champs, definitely benefits from being in the power-packed Wells Fargo with schools like Cactus, Centennial, Pinnacle and Shadow Mountain.
If nothing else, Marauder coaches should try to schedule some late-season series with strong Valley programs like Chaparral or Cactus.
Kudos to coaches this year for getting Mingus into a Spring Break tournament at Moon Valley. The Marauders started their surge during that week, eventually taking second behind Thunderbird. But you have to wonder how much playing weak GCR teams in the six weeks that followed cool them off.
While Mingus struggles with "playing down" in its region, Camp Verde and Sedona have both managed to excel at "playing up."
The Cowboys and Scorpions are two of the smallest schools in 3A. Yet both made the playoffs this season, and Sedona advanced just one step shy of the championship game, losing to Higley in Friday’s semis. Camp Verde beat the other state finalist, Fountain Hills, in early March.
"They’ve got a thousand kids," Red Rock assistant coach John Parks said of Higley. "They’ve got a JV team. They’ve got a freshman team."
Sedona meanwhile has about 500 students and Camp Verde has fewer than that. Both struggle to keep JV programs going and are a long way from even thinking about a freshman team.
It’s no surprise then that Higley’s region, the 3A South, has emerged as the premier league in baseball and other sports. It’s full of schools in high growth areas, like Higley, Fountain Hills and Queen Creek.
So how did the locals compete this year? Chalk it up to good old fashioned hard work.
A young pitching corps and a workman-like defense drove Camp Verde to its first West Region title. A senior pitcher (Mark Gaulden) and a group of hard-nosed hitters who refused to believe they were out of any game turned Sedona into the comeback story of the spring.
All-region balloting hasn’t been released yet, but I’d split my vote for West Region coach of the year between Camp Verde’s Mike Mier and Sedona’s Anthony Lo Duca.
No, Mier’s Cowboys and Lo Duca’s Scorpions weren’t standing on the final day of the season. Neither was Seth Melton’s Mingus Marauders.
But all three local teams have plenty of reasons to be standing proud now that the season is in the books. And each deserves a standing ovation from us.