The 2018 All West Valley Preps baseball team

Matthew Liberatore pitches in a game this spring at Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale. The recent MRHS graduate was chosen with the #16 pick in the Major League Baseball draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. [Donna Mundy/For West Valley Preps]

West Valley Preps

For the sixth year, West Valley Preps has announced honors for the best baseball players it covers in the Northwest Valley.

Here is the complete sixth all-West Valley Preps baseball team:

First team

C – Brady Welch (Senior) Liberty

1B – Justin Flebbe (Junior) Kellis

2B – Tyler Pruitt (Senior) Sunrise Mountain

SS – Andy Kupec (Senior) Centennial

3B – Jonathan Ornelas (Senior) Kellis

OF – Jake Robson (Senior) Mountain Ridge

OF – T.C. Strickler (Senior) Ironwood

OF – Nick Ayres (Senior) Joy Christian

UT – J.D. Wadleigh (Senior) Liberty

P – Matthew Liberatore (Senior) Mountain Ridge

P – Troy Balko (Senior) Sunrise Mountain

P – Chandler Murphy (Junior) Liberty

Willow Canyon’s Nolan Lovett slides under the tag of Liberty’s Jace Johnson on a stolen base attempt on Thursday, April 19, 2018 at Liberty High School in Peoria. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]
Second team

C – Ethan Snodgrass (Junior) Sunrise Mountain

1B – Chase St. Amand (Senior) Shadow Ridge

2B – Jace Johnson (Senior) Liberty

SS – Jason Harayda (Senior) Mountain Ridge

3B – Eli Eliot (Junior) Deer Valley

OF – Zac Driscoll (Senior) Northwest Christian

OF – Nolan Lovett (Senior) Willow Canyon

OF – Trevor Pruitt (Senior) Sunrise Mountain

UT – Preston Godfrey (Senior) Mountain Ridge

P – Jarin Davis (Senior) Northwest Christian

P – Ronan Kopp (Sophomore) Joy Christian

P – Caleb Thomason (Junior) Sunrise Mountain

Underclassmen to watch

Cactus – Peyton Arsenault OF (Soph.),; Centennial – Michael Keevins P/OF (Soph.), Rudy Nolasco 3B/P (Soph.); Deer Valley – Tanner Merrifield P (Soph.), Christopher Peck IF (Soph.); Dysart – Kyle Fairchild IF/P (Soph.), Ruben Mejias P/IF (Soph.); Glendale Prep – Kyle McBee UT (Soph.); Ironwood – Garrett Peikert P (Soph.), Israel Vasquez IF (Soph.); Joy Christian – Easton Rhynard IF (Soph.); Kellis – Emiliano Garcia P (Soph.), Brandon Maville C (Soph.); Mountain Ridge – Brock Peery 3B (Soph.), Travis Warriner SS (Soph.); Northwest Christian – Bennett Beltramo UT (Soph.); Paradise Honors – Joey Collier P/1B (Fr.), Marshall Williams SS/P (Fr.); Peoria – Bryan Vallardes UT (Soph.); Shadow Ridge – Brett Kuhlin 3B (Soph.); Sunrise Mountain – Andy Moreno IF (Fr.)., Jacob Stockton 2B (Soph.); Valley Vista – Andrew Antillon 3B (Soph.), Logan Olson OF (Soph.); Willow Canyon – Jayson Hayes UT (Soph.).

Sunrise Mountain’s Troy Balko (#12) throws a pitch against Liberty on Thursday, March 1, 2018 at Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]
Player of the Year

Matthew Liberatore, Mountain Ridge – Only the natural reluctance to choose a pitcher as MVP added any suspense to this race. And the Gatorade went and named Liberatore its state player of the year. And the Tampa Bay Rays chose him midway through the first round. So it’s a moot point. While the numbers (8-1, 0.93 ERA, 104 K in 60 1/3 innings, .239 opponents’ on-base percentage) are otherworldly, they fail to tell the whole story. Simply put, Mountain Ridge was ranked No. 9 in Arizona by MaxPreps and with any other pitcher on the mound that is fairly accurate. But when Liberatore was pitching, the Mountain Lions were clearly the best team in the state.

Runner-up: Troy Balko, Sunrise Mountain – Were this a regular season only award, Balko would have a case. He finished the year undefeated with an 0.31 ERA and a batting average well above .400. An injury-plagued postseason hurt in both categories and rendered Balko unable to even take a turn in the lineup during the Nogales rematch. But Balko’s dominant regular season was just enough to edge the best pure hitter in the West Valley, Kellis senior Jonathan Ornelas — a third-round pick of the Rangers who looks likely to join Liberatore on the track to the big leagues soon.

Liberty coaches and players celebrate the Lions’ 2018 5A state championship, [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]
Coach of the Year

Chris Raymond, Liberty – A year after a massive turnaround, Raymond may have done an even better job nurturing a team with less raw talent to a state title. He used the first half of the regular season to see how deep the Lions’ stable of arms was and to try different combinations in a mostly-new batting order. By mid-April, Liberty was ready. The Lions won their last 11 games to take home the 5A trophy. And as much as the three one-run wins to reach the state final reflect on the perseverance of the players, they also were a sign of a coach and staff that prepared the kids for every situation.

Runner-up: Eric Gardner, Sunrise Mountain and Klent Corley, Joy Christian (tie) – Gardner’s last year at Sunrise Mounain and what was almost certainly Corley’s last at Joy Christian were memorable for different reasons. More than any other year, Gardner was at peace with his team and concentrated more on in-gam moves. He left the job content with the team that, more than any of his 21, reached its potential and pushed defending 4A champion Nogales to its limits. Meanwhile, Corley’s tenure at Joy Christian began to resemble Gardner’s — a model program at its level that was a break or two away from winning that elusive state title. That is, until just after winter break, when five players — including star pitcher Zach Martinez — were part of a mass exodus from the school. Suddenly, the Eagles were a more typical 2A team, trying to hide players on the field and stitching together pitching. Yet Joy Christian persevered and came within an inning of reaching the state final — in what may have been the school’s last year of baseball.

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