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:
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
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.).
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.
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.