West Valley Preps’ 2019 baseball season preview

Liberty junior starting pitcher Chandler Murphy prepares to deliver a pitch during the state 5A baseball final May 15, 2018 against Buckeye Verrado. The University of Arizona commit is back for his senior season as the Lions move to 6A. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Compiled by Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

This week marked the beginning of the high school baseball regular season. Perennial powers Liberty and Sunrise Mountain have moved up a conference. And longtime Kellis coach Michael Deardoff left for Sunrise Mountain, succeeding the retiring Eric Gardner. The Cougars promoted assistant Dante Beltramo. Paradise Honors had to hire a coach as the season started, and chose former Shadow Ridge coach Charlie Summers. Rodney Friar now leads the Stallions. West Valley Preps asked Northwest Valley coaches to take a look at their teams:

Centennial Coyotes

5A Northwest Region
Coach: Brady Pond (second year as head coach).
2018 Record: 14-14 (Did not reach playoffs)
Top Returnees: Rudy Nolasco, Jr., IF/P (.384, 27 RBI, 4.40 ERA) Michael Keevins, Jr., P/OF (3-0 2.68 ERA, 21 K in 15.3 IP)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? Pitching depth and middle of the order bats
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? Consistent offense.
Who are your team leaders? James Garrigan and Vincent Espinoza.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad that could make an impact? Seth Jelovic, Cody Rockwood, Geno D’Ambrosio.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season, or reach the goals the program has set? We have to be even-keeled and not have a low point in the season. We need to be consistent in every aspect and batter all even innings.

Deer Valley Skyhawks

4A West Valley Region
2018 Record: 14-14, 4-6 region (Reached 5A play-in round)
Coach: Greg Rice (fourth year)
Top Returnees: Eli Elliott Sr., 3B/P (.404, 6 HR, 39 RBI, 2-2, 4.57 ERA); Dominic Vest, Sr., C (.314, 16 RBI)
What is your team’s best attribute? Our top returning players this year are (Sr) Jacob Paige. our shorstop and center fielder, and is key to our offense, (Sr.) Logan Livingston is our key pitcher and shortstop, (Sr) Eli Elliott, a pitcher and third baseman, will be a strong RBI player offensively. (Sr) Dominick Vest is our catcher and will lead the defense, (Sr) Donny Smith is an infielder that has excellent power at the plate.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? The key to our success is the young pitching staff stepping up and performing well.  We have two senior starters on the mound and will need the senior leadership to reach our goals.
Who are your team leaders? Our leaders have been working hard to get the team closer on and off the field.  They are Jacob Paige, Logan Livingston, Eli Elliott and Dominick Vest.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad that could make an impact? Our newcomers this year are (Jr) Ashton Reagan OF and  hits for average and has made a big impact for the team.  (Soph) Aaron Nuanez is a key Pitcher for us this year and (Sr) Caleb Hays we are looking for great things from him this season transitioning to the outfield.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season, or reach the goals the program has set? For us to reach the state tournament we are going to have to have great pitching and solid play on defense. We have a team that will put up runs, we have to make sure we finish games strong.

Dysart sophomore Kyle Fairchild fi elds a ground ball against Willow Canyon on March 9, 2018 at Dysart High School in Surprise. Fairchild is back for his junior
season with the Demons. [File photo]

Dysart Demons

4A Black Canyon Region
2018 Record: 4-17, 2-8 region (Did not make playoffs)
Coach: Nicholas Rizzi (fifth year)
Top Returnees: Ruben Mejias Jr., C/IF; Jacob McClelland, Sr., IF/P
What is your team’s best attribute? The team is strong defensively and will make plays. Ruben Mejias (C), Alan Ripalda (SS), and Jeramy Giacoletti-Moody (2B) are each above-average defenders in the middle of the diamond. The team can also rely upon a potentially very solid starting rotation.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? The pitchers have worked hard to improve their strike-throwing ability and must continue that progress.
Who are your team leaders? Ruben Mejias (Jr.), Kyle Fairchild (Jr.), and Aurelio Lopez (Sr.).
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad that could make an impact? Matthew Barajas (freshman infielder) and Colin Reagan (freshman infielder/pitcher) will earn consistent innings on the varsity roster.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season, or reach the goals the program has set? The group is finally becoming older, more experienced, and skillful. In contrast to last year, the roster should be able to consistently compete with opponents on the schedule. The team can win the region and qualify for the state tournament if pitchers consistently throw strikes and hitters fully embrace an aggressive mentality at the plate.

Kellis Cougars

5A Northwest Region
Coach: Dante Beltramo (10th year as head coach).2018 Record: 15-14 (Reached first round of playoffs)
Top Returnees: Justin Flebbe, Sr., 1B (.424, 5 HR, 39 RBI); Sam Curran, Sr., UT (.311, 12 SB, 12 RBI)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? Our teams best attribute is its unselfish nature. A lot of players are taking on different roles than in previous years and have done so with a positive mindset.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? To be successful our team needs to execute offensively. One thing we have worked on in the pre-season is going into an at bat with a plan. Our goal is to get productive at bats throughout seven innings to put ourselves in a position to win.
Who are your team leaders? Our team leaders are Justin Flebbe, Sam Curran, Nick Wylie and Chase Weaver. Being a part of the state team (in 2017) a lot of newcomers really look up to Justin and Sam. When these four turn it on the team responds in a big way.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad that could make an impact? Emiliano Garcia and Brandon Maville saw time last year and are going to be counted on in bigger roles this year. Josh Acosta has the ability to do a lot of really good things at this level. We also have a freshman who will see time up the middle, Joseph Samora.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season, or reach the goals the program has set? To reach our team goals we need to keep focus and execute. When we play our game and get the whole team involved, I believe we are as hard to beat as anybody.

Liberty Lions

6A Desert Valley Region
Coach: Chris Raymond (Third year at Liberty)
2018 Record: 23-8 (5A state champions)
Top Returnees: Chandler Murphy P/1B, Sr. (7-3, 2.03 ERA, 61 K in 47 1/3 innings); Luke Pauga 1B, Sr. (.361, 27 RBI)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? Our guys are little bit salty to prove last year was not a fluke.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? Offense needs to progress as the year is going because we like our starting pitching.
Who are your team leaders? Luke Pauga and Chandler Murphy.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad that could make an impact? Sophomore Carson Baker OF/LHP, sophomore Trevor Saire OF/RHP.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season, or reach the goals the program has set? Our guys want to prove that our program will compete (in 6A). Frankly, they have worked their tails off. We are gong to compete at everything we do. Hopefully, that will lead to success.

Mountain Ridge’s Travis Warinner fields a ground ball against Sandra Day O’Connor on Friday, April 20, 2018 at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Mountain Ridge Mountain Lions

6A Desert Valley Region
Coach: Artie Cox (second year as Mountain Ridge coach)
2018 Record: 21-11-1 overall, 8-2 region (6A runners up)
Top returning players: Travis Warriner, Jr., SS (.329, 18 RBI); Zach Martinez, Sr., P (2-3, 4.72 ERA, 35 K in 29.2 IP)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? Pitching and defense.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? Offense if we can get a little run support we will have a good season.
Who are your team leaders? Zach Rogers, Brock Peery and Tate Childers.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad who could make an impact? Sophomore Cayden Collins (Utah University commitment) will be big addition on the mound and two transfers from Washington — Kyler and Keegan Stancato — Kyler is a center fielder who will hit at the top of our lineup and Keegan is a left-handed pitcher who will be in our starting rotation. Keegan brings a big bat and look forward to him hitting in the middle of our line up.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament, or achieve the goals you have set this season? We have to pitch it really well and play defense and if we can increase our offense output from last year we will should have a really good season.

Northwest Christian Crusaders

3A West Region
Coach: Bobby Howry (second year as Northwest Christian coach)
2018 Record: 20-8 overall, 8-2 region (Reached 3A first round)
Top returning players: Max Nebel, Sr., P/1B (4-0, 3.59 ERA, .366, 17 RBI); Ryan Lopez, Sr., P/UT (.351, 25 RBI, 4-2, 5.66 ERA, 39 K in 34.2 IP)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? Pitching and defense along with timely hitting is the strength of this years team.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? The biggest thing I have seen in our games so far is we need to do a better job as pitchers getting ahead in the count and eliminating walks.
Who are your team leaders? Seniors Max Nebel and Ryan Lopez returning as starters.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad who could make an impact? The addition of junior transfers Aeneas Clark (from New Jersey) and A.J. Kostic (from Odyssey Institute) means this team has high expectations this season.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament, or achieve the goals you have set this season? I believe that if they keep a like minded goal and buy in to doing all the little things right we can have a special year.

Peoria Panthers

4A West Valley Region
Coach: Shawn Sullivan (fourth year at Peoria)
2018 Record: 10-15 (Did not reach 4A playoffs)
Top Returnees: Cameron Torres, Sr., IB/P (.347, 9 RBI); Bryan Valladares, Jr., IF/P (.307, 9 RBI)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? Pitching and defense. We have a lot of depth this season on the mound.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? Learn to win, be a good teammate, and execute on offense.
Who are your team leaders? John Jones and Cameron Torres.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad who could make an impact? Adam Flanders, Blayden Sullivan, Jayston Hefley, and Lee Linares.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season, or reach the goals the program has set? We need to trust each other and learn to play as a team and believe that we can make the state tournament.

Shadow Ridge Stallions

6A Southwest Region
2018 Record: 12-16, 3-5 (Did not make playoffs)
Coach: Rodney Friar (first year)
Top Returnees: Brett Kuhlin, Jr., (.385); Josh Thurman, Jr., OF/P (.288)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? We pride ourselves in working as a team and creating a culture that makes everyone successful.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? More offensive production.
Who are your team leaders? Josh Thurman, Alex Anglin and Brett Kuhlin.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad that could make an impact? Austin Humphries…2022 guy No. 1 left-handed pitcher in Arizona in that class and No. 86 in the country, he will hold down left field for the next four years and close out some games on the bump. Dillion Orr…2022 guy. A right-handed pitcher who throws in the upper 80s and he can really pitch. Treyton Tarver…2021 made squad last year as a freshman, pitched well and plays first base. Coltin Graham…2021 made squad as a freshman and is the catcher and has a great arm and some pop at the dish.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season? Our team goal this year is make school history and make the playoffs for the first time, we will achieve this through hard work, a culture that breeds success and over coming adversity. I am extremely young this year and it can be a challenge but the players our a team and have the goal set.

Sunrise Mountain junior catcher Ethan Snodgrass hits a first inning single to left field during the Mustangs’ May 12 elimination game against defending 4A baseball champion Nogales. [Courtesy Mustang Baseball Boosters/For West Valley Preps]

Sunrise Mountain Mustangs

5A Northwest Region
Coach: Michael Deardoff (first year at Sunrise Mountain, 11th year as head coach)
2018 Record: 27-5 (Reached 4A semifinals)
Top Players: Ethan Snodgrass Sr., C (.453, 4 HR, 23 RBI); Caleb Thomason, Sr., RP (1.57 ERA, 1-1, 2 saves)
What is your team’s best attribute entering this season? Our pitching depth and experience our returners gained last year making the semi-finals.
What will your team need to improve for the season to be a success? We need to improve offensively.
Who are your team leaders? Seniors Ethan Snodgrass and Jarett Kellerhals.
Who are newcomers to the varsity squad who could make an impact? Garrett Moltz isn’t a new comer but will have more of a two way role this year instead of being a pitcher only.
What needs to happen for your squad to reach the state tournament this season, or reach the goals the program has set? We need to be consistent every day.



You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.