The Cs have it for a rejuvenated Centennial Coyotes baseball program.
Six of the 21 players on the team's roster have first names that begin with the letter. This includes the hands down MVP and likely all-state player, junior Cristian Mogen, who leads Centennial in batting average (.517), RBI (37) on base percentage (.560) and slugging percentage (.839).
But three other "Cs" are seniors who have lifted their games considerably to raise the Coyotes to 5A contender status. Carter Eiden (.188 to .388), Charlie Kimball (.267 to .323) and Cody Rockwood (.233 to .459) made massive improvment in their batting averages this spring.
“Believe it or not, our seniors this year didn’t particularly perform at the highest level last year. But we gave them opportunities and telling them to understand this is a building year,” third-year Centennial coach Jon Williams said. “It could have been very easy to give up and put younger kids in there. But when you have kids that show up every day and love the program and love what you’re doing, you give them opportunities.”
They and their teammates' improvements allowed the Coyotes to jump from the #16 (and final) seed in the 2021 playoffs to #7. Centennial (21-6 overall, 14-4 regular season) hosts #10 Queen Creek Casteel (13-15, 8-10) at 11 a.m. Saturday in a first round elimination game.
This type of season would have seemed like a dream in their freshman year, as Centennial stumbled to a 6-19 finish.
“It just wasn’t a winning environment until Jon got here,” Kimball said. “A lot of selfish baseball.”
The trio knew each other through youth baseball and eventually played on the same AAU team.
All three said they planned to play for Centennial from the beginning.
“It’s local and we all live around here. It a great place to play baseball too,” Rockwood said.
But they did not truly get a chance to play together on the varsity until their junior year.
Rockwood was the only freshman on the 2019 varsity team.
“It was a different culture. We were a little separated at time,” Rockwood said.
Eiden said life on a frequently losing freshman team was not much better.
“Down on the freshman level it was the same way. Everyone hated each other. No one wanted to be teammates,” Eiden said.
Williams' arrival buoyed the program and the 2020 team started 4-4 before the first wave of COVID-19 led to the cancellation of the season.
A senior class led by Isaac Chavira, Nick Klaus, Michael Keevins, Rudy Nolasco and Kade Hamrick never got the chance to turn the program around.
“We were going to make it far that year too. We had a lot of young talent and some really good seniors,” Eiden said.
The revival was in the hands of the 2021 Coyotes and they helped, going 11-10 and returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Williams and the three non seniors credited Seth Jelovic, Ryan Mixey and Geno D'Ambrosio for pavving the way and 9-8 and 8-7 losses at top seed Millennium for giving the team belief in itself.
“They had a desire to work hard, put in the time to get better and learn. The first thing I told them was, ‘I’m going to push you hard. We’re going to make the program and team better.’ Never once did they complain or have an issue with it.” Williams said.
While the full fruits had not been realized yet, the 2021 Coyotes also embraced the value of mixing in some small ball.
“Last year taught us how to be a good ball team. Before it was let’s all hit home runs and have the highest batting average,” Eiden said. “Last year we realized we should lay a bunt down and things like that.”
This year, everything is working, Eiden and Rockwood's massive leaps at the plate complement junior sluggers Mogen and Kevin Ramos.
Rockwood (27) and Eiden are second and third in RBI, 27 and 24 respectively.
Meanwhile, Kimball morphed from a bullpen pitcher to Centennial's ace as a senior. He sports a 1.91 ERA in 33 innings pitched, and held down tough lineups in season-defining wins over defending 5A champion Scottsdale Desert Mountain and Peoria rival Sunrise Mountain.
“They believed in me and our coaching staff,” Williams said. “We set the final four as a goal with the senior leadership. That hadn’t been talk of that for a long time around here.”
Eiden said that 6-3 win April 12 at then-undefeated and top seed Sunrise Mountain proved this team was not just a nice turnaround story - but real contenders.
Centennial has not played in nine days. But Rockwood saw value even in that 26-3 win vs Ironwood April 21.
“I think Sunrise broughtus a lot of confidence. It might not be a close game today but everybody was swinging it,” Rockwood said.
Williams said each senior brings a different flavor to the team's leadership.
Carter Eiden — loud and boisterous, the vocal leader
Cody Rockwood — confident and lets his play speak for itself
Charlie Kimball — always there to pick guys up
“They’re all very different. They almost complement themselves,” Williams said. “You need that balance in your leadership.”
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