In one of the most wide-open baseball championship races in years, local high school teams have set themselves up for a run at the playoffs. A number of those teams are legitimate championship contenders.
Peoria’s Liberty High School leads local teams with eighth wins, while Mountain Ridge, Apollo, Sunrise Mountain and Peoria all have seven leading into spring break.
Here is a review of the first half for local schools.
6A - Desert Valley section
Liberty, which won the 5A state championship last season, has made the early move to 6A successful with eight wins.
Luke Pauga (.500 average, two home runs, 14 RBIs) and Kyle Lewis (.436, one HR, 10 RBIs) picked up in 6A right where they left off in 5A. Chandler Murphy has been dominant on the mound, with a 3-1 record, 0.81 ERS and 33 strikeouts to only eighth walks for the Lions.
Mountain Ridge, which was the 6A state runner up last season, continues with a strong core of returning players.
Travis Warriner and Zach Martinez led the Mountain Lions’ attempt to return to the state title game. Warriner has three home runs and 10 RBIs and Ryan Ellis averages .414 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. Brock Perry also hit .316, with two home runs and eight RBIs. The Mountain Lions scored an average of six runs a game.
After losing starting pitcher Matthew Liberatore, who was drafted in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft by Tampa Bay, the team has not skipped a beat on the mound.
Mason Piert is 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA, and Kyle Stancato is 1-1 with a 2.80 ERA and 15 strikeouts in three games.
5A - Northwest section
Apollo and Sunrise Mountain each won seven games, while Centennial, Kellis and Ironwood each won three ahead of section play.
Sunrise Mountain was led by Ethan Snodgrass (.353, 10 RBIs), Caleb Thomason (.438, nine RBIs), Jarrett Kellerhals (.424, seven RBIs) and Joseph Agate (.400).
Carter Krosky and Garrett Moltz each won two games on the mound, with Krosky striking out 20 and David Norman and Thomason also victorious on the mound.
Apollo boasts a strong offense, with Chuvy Rivera (.478, 12 RBIs and four stolen bases), Manny Macias (.474, 12 RBIs) and Noah Olbera (.476, 12 RBIs) leading the Hawks.
Kellis – led by Justin Flebbe, Sam Curran, Nick Wylie and Chase Weaver, who were all part of last season’s playoff team – has won five games.
Flebbe has been strong at the plate (.550 average, two HRs, eight RBIs) as well as on the mound (1-0, 1.91 ERA, with 21 strikeouts) to lead the Cougars. Emilano Garcia (2-1, 1.50 ERA) has also been strong on the mound.
Offensively, Nick Wylie hit .435 with 10 RBIs and 10 hits, while Sam Curran also proved his strength at the plate through a .341 average and nine hits for the Cougars.
Centennial’s Rudy Nolasco has 12 RBIs and Michael Keevins has been strong on the mound (1.40 ERA) to lead the Coyotes, while Ironwood’s Israel Vasquez (0.00 ERA), James Benbrock (18 strikeouts) and Alex Cordero (13 strikeouts) rank as three of the top pitchers in the section.
4A - West Valley section
Peoria has been the early surprise, winning seven games, with Cactus and Deer Valley each winning four. The Panthers have already split their first two sections games, both to Deer Valley, but are focused on their first return to the playoffs since the early 1990s.
Cameron Torres leads the Panthers with a .531 average, three home runs and 12 RBIs, while Bryan Valladares has 11 RBIs and 11 hits and Blayden Sullican leads the offense with 10 RBIs.
Adam Flanders has been the Panthers No. 1 starter, winning three games and losing none. He has a 0.88 ERA and 28 strikeouts, as well as only five walks. Dennis Zanowick follows closely behind as a strong No. 2. He has a 2-0 record, 0.98 ERA and 18 strikeouts.