Aggressive Willow Canyon runs rings around Dysart

Willow Canyon senior Nolan Lovett rounds third base off a single by teammate Connor Still against Dysart on Friday, March 9, 2018 at Dysart High School in El Mirage. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

By the time Willow Canyon’s bats headed up Friday night, the Wildcats already had a comfortable lead at Dysart thanks to patience at the plate and aggressiveness on the base paths.

That’s first year head coach Orlando Rodriguez vision for rebuilding the program — manufacturing runs until they are easier to come by.

For example, in the top of the fifth Friday, the Wildcats scored four runs without recording a hit, drawing four straight walks to plate one, then scoring on a hit batter and two more walks.

Sophomore Dan Zapata capped the inning with an RBI single for a 10-2. Willow Canyon (2-4) then ended things early, exploding for eight runs in the sixth to seal an 18-2 win.

“It’s good to see them buying in to what we’re trying to do here. It is our first year, and the thing is, we want to put a lot of pressure on the defense,” Rodriguez said. “For us to be aggressive, that just fits into what we’re trying to do here. We’re going to be aggressive on the base paths and do what we can to manufacture runs. It pays off.”

The first four innings were far more competitive, with the Wildcats building a 5-2 advantage. Most of the advantage came in the opening frame.

Senior Nolan Lovett led off the game with a walk and Connor Still stroked a double to left. With one out, senior Mitchell Ortega brought both home on a single to left center.

Ortega scored and junior Dallan Curthoys advanced all the way to third base on a misplayed fly ball with two outs. Junior Kody Harris singled Curthoys in and swiped second and third before a strikeout ended the inning.

Dysart (2-8) also was opportunistic early, loading the bases with two walks and a hit batter in the bottom of the first. Freshman Alan Ripalda scored on Albert Hernandez’s grounder that forced a fielder’s choice.

Sophomore Kyle Fairchild’s third inning RBI drew the Demons within two at 4-2.

“Our pitchers need to throw strikes. If our pitchers throw strikes, it’s a little bit better rhythm and our defense is better,” Dysart coach Nicholas Rizzi said. “I was pretty happy with the at bats today. We didn’t swing at bad pitches.”

Zapata entered after sophomore started Jason Hayes walked junior Jacob McClelland walked to start the third. Sophomore pinch runner Will Skaggs scored on Fairchild’s single.

But Zapata did not allow a run from any of the 12 batters he faced over the course of four innings of relief.

“This was his first time on the mound all season. So for him to come in there and throw strikes and keep  a good team like Dysart that has ha momentum on their side down, it’s a huge thing for us. We have another arm that we can count on,” Rodriguez said.

Senior Trevor Holtorf smacked a one-out triple to left center, then came home on a wild pitch.

That presaged the floodgates opening in the final two innings. Lovett drove in a run and Still knocked home two in the seventh. The other five runs came in on a throwing error, Holtorf’s sacrifice fly,  and three more runs on errors.

“The first thing we’ve tried to do is to bring in the new Willow culture, which is having each other’s backs and building a program that is a family. When we make mistakes on the field, we can rely on teammates to have their back,” Rodriguez said. “The goal we’ve set is to let the Valley know that Willow Canyon is not a place to take for granted. It’s not a for sure W anymore. It’s a question mark. They’ve got to know we’re going to be a scrappy team.”

This game ends an exhausting stretch of 10 games in the season’s first 17 days for the Demons. The wear of that stretch showed in the late innings, in particular on the pitching staff.

Yet this loss to a 5A district rival will have little bearing in the big picture, particularly with play in the more friendly 4A Black Canyon Region beginning next week.

“In the overall picture, we’re a young, inexperienced team. We competed for the first three or four innings. We’re playing a team that’s a little more experienced and we run into a certain wall,” Rizzi said. “I feel pretty good walking into region play and knowing who’s on our schedule. I know we can compete with those teams. This is probably the youngest team I’ve ever coached. I started two seniors tonight. They’ve actually persevered pretty nicely and they’re better than they were two to three weeks ago.”

Dysart junior Brody Williams scores off a fielder’s choice by teammate Albert Hernandez against Willow Canyon on Friday, March 9, 2018 at Dysart High School in El Mirage. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

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