West Valley Preps
Enrique Cotto’s Valley Vista baseball homecoming seemed unlikely until things fell in place rapidly this fall.
Cotto said he heard about the job opening in August, as Ernesto Ortiz left after two years leading the Monsoon to be an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for Ottawa University Arizona.
Cotto served as a Monsoon assistant for seven years under coaches Klent Corley and Mark Flatten, then followed Flatten to Buckeye Verrado the last two years. Cotto applied for the Verrado job when Flatten left last May, didn’t get it, then turned his attention to his old stomping grounds.
“That’s when I found out I wasn’t going to get the job at Verrado. A couple of parents called me and talked to the AD out here. I said, ‘If you guys want me here, I’m more than happy to go home,’” Cotto said.
A handful of seniors — Cotto said he remembered three kids who were freshmen for Valley Vista in 2015 — already looking at their third coach in four years, hoped he was coming back.
They got their wish when Cotto was named the new coach in November.
“He’s been my club ball coach since I was 9. My freshman year he was here, and then he left. It’s good to have him back,” Nunez said. “We didn’t think it was going to be him but we also had an idea it might be him. It was late notice so we were kind of struggling during the beginning. He’s put in a lot of time to get us where we are right now.”
Beginning near the end of fall ball is never ideal, particularly this year, as the AIA lifted rules on offseason practices.
An unusually young team needed all the extra practices they could get. Valley Vista reached the 6A playoffs in 2017 and nearly knocked off top seed Chandler Basha in the first round.
Nunez was the only returning full-time starter although current sophomore Logan Olson became more of a regular during the course of his freshman season.
All three starting pitchers also graduated.
“The thing I already knew is we were going to be inexperienced. They were senior heavy last year,” Cotto said. “A lot of kids have never been around my style. I knew it was going to be a challenge, I was only going to have one returning starter. We have struggled at times because of the inexperience, but I think we are moving in the right direction.”
That youth has manifested itself at times during a 4-5 start to the regular season. Playing 6A heavyweights Mountain Ridge, Mesa Red Mountain and Mesa Skyline in succession did not help.
Valley Vista has a 11-10 overall record and was happy to recharge in week-long Coach Bob Invitational, during spring break last week.
“The amount of time I had to work with them was pretty minimal,” Cotto said, “It’s tough to establish something. Kids do not know if you’re serious sometimes. The comfort level is not there with my expectations.”
A March 21 home victory against Ironwood in the tourney was another welcome chance to grow. The Monsoon broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth, then escaped a bases loaded jam with one out in the seventh.
Later that night, Valley Vista beat Palmdale Highland (Calif.) 8-6.
“A lot of them are inexperienced in a tense situation,” Cotto said. “This tournament has helped give them opportunities and we’ve got five more games. We continued to grow today. We haven’t been able to handle those situations earlier this year. I think we took a big step.”
Junior Tyler Cotto joined his father in coming in from Verrado and is second on the team — to Nunez — with 11 RBI.
He and the team’s small senior leadership core are getting Valley Vista baseball reacquainted with coach Cotto’s expectations.
“They didn’t know who he was. They’re starting to fall into the process he’s trying to teach. Each game, we’re getting better at everything,” Nunez said.
This Thursday and Friday, Valley Vista started Southwest Region play with two lopsided wins against Copper Canyon.