One more chance to make a mark for Mountain Ridge

Mountain Ridge senior pitcher Zach Martinez poses for a photograph on March 20 at Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Zach Martinez getting healthy for stretch drive

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

If Mountain Ridge gets to see the best of Zach Martinez, it will come at the tail end of the pitcher’s career with the Mountain Lions.

Coach Artie Cox said Martinez had a physical setback early in this, his senior, season and is just now rounding his way into form. Martinez has thrown just 7 2/3 innings this season.

“He’s through that now so we’re just getting him back on track. In his first outing, he went two innings. In his last start, a bit less. He’s on a pitch count right now so he’s still working his way back. By the time we’re in California for the National Classic he’ll be at full strength.”

The Mountain Lions are in the midst of the national classic in Orange County now, sporting a 2-1 record entering Thursday’s game against La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat.

It is still a bit strange to label Zach Martinez as a Mountain Ridge player. He really had not considered the possibility until weeks before his junior season started in 2018.

Martinez was established as neighboring Joy Christian’s star pitcher. He started for the Eagles in the 2016 Division IV state title game as a freshman and pitched later that summer on Team USA’s 15 and under national team.

Martinez was 8-0 with an 0.30 ERA for Joy Christian’s dominant 2017 team, which was 30-1 until a stunning 5-4 loss to Wilcox in the 2A semifinals.

Still Martinez was ready to make another run at the state title until things fell apart very quickly at the north Glendale private school. A rift developed among members of the Joy Christian administration last winter, causing many students to leave.

“It was really mainly a bunch of stuff going on in the administration. It was complicated and a lot of stuff that we didn’t think should be going on. We really didn’t want to be in that atmosphere. We already knew a lot of guys over here and lived pretty close,” Martinez said.

Joy Christian sophomore Zach Martinez (#5) fields a ground ball against Oregon Baker High School March 29, 2017 at Joy Christian School in Glendale. Martinez and some teammates transferred to Mountain Ridge in 2018 and Joy Christian no longer plays in the AIA. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]
Suddenly he was transitioning from a 2A title contender to a 6A title contender, as was his younger brother, Matthew, and former Joy Christian teammate Cayden Collins.

Martinez said the Mountain Lions were already in the midst of preseason training.

“It was a surprise to me. I got the call from somebody at the last minute. I had no idea these kids were transferring or what was going on or the reasons behind it. We were really happy, of course, to get those kind of players in our program,” Cox said. “Zach’s younger brother has done a lot for us already this year. And he’s really good. It’s nice to have the three of them come over.”

Martinez would not have the pressure of being an ace, with future Tampa By Rays first-round pick Matthew Liberatore filling that role.

On the flip side, a lot of eyes were on the Mountain Lions and Martinez. Scout came in droves to watch Liberatore pitch against several deep 6A lineups.

“That was one of the first things I told him when he got here. Our conference is so hard and you’re facing top players every day,” Cox said. “I think one of the hard things for him was not only trying to fit in right away but also having Matthew Liberatore. He was the ace on his team and coming here and having everything that went along with (Liberatore) last year put a lot of pressure on him to perform.”

Martinez picked up a key win in the 6A championship bracket, shutting out Mesa Red Mountain to get two wins within a state title. But he struggled in his next start, against Mesa Mountain View with a chance to snag a state finals berth.

Mountain Ridge eventually reached the title game, losing to nearby rival O’Connor.

“It was kind of a last-minute thing and I had to jump right into it. They’d already been doing some training,” Martinez said. “This year is more comfortable for me. I got to bond with the guys more. It was fun getting to know all of them.”

As one of only six seniors on the roster, Martinez is becoming more of a vocal presence. Fellow seniors Tate Childers and Mason Piert also had to fill the leadership void.

“At the beginning of the year I told him, ‘This is your program.’ The newness is over. I expect him to step up and be a voice on this team,” Cox said.

With 12 varsity players and talent across the diamond, the fate of this year’s Mountain Lions and next will rest largely on this junior class.

“This year and next these juniors, the 2020 class, should step up. It will be exciting,” Martinez said.

In his second year — and with improved health — Martinez said he’s a little more relaxed.

He also said he has a bit smarter approach on the mound than in his time at Joy Christian.

Martinez is ready to make one last championship charge. Mountain Ridge is 7-4 this regular season and motivated by its second runner up finish in three years.

“Getting so close last year motivates us that much more. But we’re still focusing on every practice and every game,” Martinez said.

When this season ends, Martinez will prepare to pitch at the University of Arizona.

As a sophomore he received a scholarship offer from the Wildcats. It did not take long for Martinez to say yes.

“It’s always been kind of a dream school to me. I grew up as a fan and both of my parents also went there,” Martinez said.

Mountain Ridge junior Zach Martinez throws a pitch against Sandra Day O’Connor on Friday, April 20, 2018 at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

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