Morenci baseball tourney casualty of global health crisis

Raymundo Frasquillo File Photo/Gila Herald: Lake Washington captured the 41st Morenci Lions tourney by defeating Saint Johns 11-3 in five innings, Safford 7-0 (6 inn.), Thatcher 17-1 (5 inn.), and Morenci 15-1 (5 inn.). The Kangaroos also earned the Washington 3A state title six weeks later. Team members, kneeling from left, are Caden Fenberg, Ben Chorlton, Ricky Koishida, Jose Vizcarra, Nick Anderson, Wei-Ly Hsue, and Lane Kraabel; standing are assistant coaches Jared Neyens and Nick Pizzuto, I-Ly Hsue, Sam Biggers, Jordan Sacks, Travis Lee, Dylan Kennedy, Ryan Macomber, Jesus Vizcarro, Andrew Urrutia, James Gardner, Ryan Thomson, Torin Montgomery, Oliver Laufman, Nation Wood, head coach Derek Bingham, and assistant coach Don Howarth.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

MORENCI – April 16 was to be the first day of the 42nd Morenci Lions Baseball Tourney. Eight teams, 1A Heber Mogollon, 2A Miami, Pima, Saint Johns, Thatcher, and Willcox, 3A Safford, and Oklahoma’s Konawa were scheduled to join the host Wildcats. It would have been the 19th tourney with an out-of-state entrant and third with nine teams.

The three-day tourney was to open with Safford versus Pima at 8:30 a.m., followed by Mogollon vs. Thatcher at 11 a.m., Miami vs. Saint Johns at 1 p.m., and Willcox vs. Konawa at 4 p.m. Host Morenci was to cap the first day at 6:30 p.m.

Of the original three teams playing in 1979, only Morenci had attended all 41 consecutive tourneys. Thatcher was unable to attend the first one, but participated in the ensuing 40; Willcox attended 35; Pima 34; Mogollon and Saint Johns 19; Miami 14; Safford four; and Konawa one.

Morenci was the tourney champion 13 times and an 8-time runner-up; Willcox a champion 13 times and a 7-time runner-up; Thatcher a champion thrice and a 10-time runner-up; Saint Johns and Pima champions once each; and both Mogollon and Miami runners-up twice apiece.

Raymundo Frasquillo File Photo/Gila Herald: Lake Washington outfielder Nation Wood dispatched two home runs in Morenci; the first tied a team record of five and the second set a new mark. He finished with eight and was the state leader in runs batted in with 39. He was selected the Lions tourney MVP.

Each of the Grand Canyon State entrants was involved in the 2019 post-season, two were eliminated in the play-in round, three during the Round of 16, one in the quarterfinals and two reached the championship game, with one ending as a state champion and the other as the runner-up.

Instead, their “Field of Dreams” has gone unused for a month and will remain unused through the rest of the school term. The state governor called off “in-class learning” and A.I.A. sponsored activities followed suit on March 30. A global health crisis is the reason for the canceled 2020 season.

Regular season games canceled numbered 16 for Miami, seven at home and nine on the road; 15 for Thatcher, six at home and nine on the road; 13 for Morenci, Saint Johns, and Willcox, six at home and seven on the road; 12 for Pima, eight at home and four on the road; and 12 for Mogollon and Safford, seven at home and five on the road.

Morenci’s baseball facility, Francis Waldorf Stadium, erected in the early 1980s and dedicated in 2005, has hosted the majority of the baseball tourneys. Less than a handful of meets were held “on the Hill.”

Morenci Wildcats

Morenci eliminated No. 23 Pima 11-1 as No. 10 in a play-in game before taking on the top three ranked teams in the 2019 state tourney Round of 16. The Wildcats topped No. 7 Benson 4-2 in the first round plus edging No. 2 Phoenix Christian 3-2 in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Bisbee 3-2 in the semifinals, before succumbing 2-3 to top-ranked Scottsdale Christian in the championship game.

Scottsdale Christian reached the finale by eliminating No. 16 Tombstone 10-0, No. 9 Flagstaff Northland Prep 15-0, and No. 5 Camp Verde 9-0.

“I can tell you that our senior boys aren’t dealing with the news very well,” Morenci head coach Chris Aguallo said. “My heart goes out to the returning seniors (Brandon Blair, Tayshaun Blackman, Omar Ortega, and Zachary Waltrip) as they believed this was the year for Morenci baseball.”

But, as recently recovered positive-tested entertainer Tom Hanks once said, “There is no crying in baseball.”

Raymundo Frasquillo File Photo/Gila Herald: Senior Brandon Blair doubled in a fourth inning run against Pima on March 13.

Morenci also had seven other returnees in juniors Francisco Araiza, Preston Johnson, Maddux Martinez, Lance Morey, and Jordan Reyes along with sophomores Shawn Hudman and Tony Roybal

The Wildcats (6-2 overall, 3-1 seeding, 2-0 East Region for 2nd) opened the season with a 2-4 loss at Safford Feb. 28; defeated San Manuel 12-5 and Show Low 3-2 March 5 plus Superior March 6 before succumbing 4-7 to Florence March 7 during the 3-day Florence-held Joe Padilla Tourney; shutout the Cowboys 6-0 in Willcox March 10 plus outlasted the Miami Vandals 10-7 and the Pima Roughriders 19-10, both in Morenci March 12 and March 13, respectively.

Mogollon Mustangs

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Zachary Waltrip stands in the batters box as he awaits his plate appearance at last year’s tourney. He was one of four returning seniors.

Mogollon topped No. 15 Fort Thomas 15-1, No. 7 Anthem Prep 10-3, No. 6 Sells Baboquivari and No. 1 Bagdad 6-2 as No. 2 en route to the 2019 1A state title.

The 2020 Mustangs (3-0, 3-0, 0-0 Central Region) allowed a lone run in three games, outscoring Saint Johns 10-0 (March 3), Pima 13-1 (March 5), and Fort Thomas 13-0 (March 5).

Twelve returned in seniors Porter Martineau, Denin Porter, Timmy Porter, and Dallin Rice; juniors Diego Amaya and Caden Owens; and sophomores Edy Corrales, Cole McCluskey, Braxton Owens, Cael Porter, Fisher Porter, and Malaki Porter.

Thatcher Eagles

Thatcher blanked No. 13 Tucson Saint Augustine Catholic 10-0 as No. 4 in the first round before falling 4-7 to No. 5 Camp Verde in the 2019 quarterfinals.

The 2020 Eagles (1-5, 0-2, 0-2 East Region) fell 2-9 to Tombstone (March 3) and 1-4 to Bisbee (March 10); fell 0-2 to Winslow (March 5), 0-9 to Queen Creek San Tan Foothills (March 5), shutout Globe 3-0 (March 6), and succumbed 1-3 to Coolidge (March 7) during the Joe Padilla Tourney.

Eight returned for the Eagles in Jeren Durr, Trevin Gaylord, Hunter Lee, Micheal McBride, Jasher Moffett, Brik Skousen, Jacob Ward, and Mark Wren.

Miami Vandals

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Omar Ortega readies himself before stepping into the batters’ box during the third week of competition.

Miami ousted No. 21 Glendale Trivium Prep 12-2 as No. 12 in a play-in game before falling 4-10 to No. 5 Camp Verde in the 2019 first round.

The 2020 Vandals (4-4-1, 2-1, 0-0 South Region) defeated Pima 8-1 (Feb. 27), Superior 10-3 (March 3); Eloy Santa Cruz 20-1 (March 4), fell 1-2 to Florence (March 4), tied Tombstone 6-6 (March 6), and downed San Manuel 14-2 (March 6), Eagar Round Valley 19-0 (March 7), and Superior 12-3 (March 7) during the Joe Padilla tourney; and fell 7-10 to Morenci (March 12).

Eleven returned in seniors Jayden Goss and Austin Higginbotham; juniors Riley Guthary, Kris Klindt, Tanner Perry, Ryan Powell, and Ryan Tidy; and sophomores Gabe Escobedo, Weezy Koyayesva, Angel Perkins, and Matt Riddle.

Saint Johns Redskins

Saint Johns was upset 2-13 as No. 8 by No. 9 Northland Prep in the 2019 first round.

The 2020 Redskins (3-4, 2-1, 0-0 North Region) fell 0-10 to Mogollon (March 3), defeated Holbrook 14-4 (March 5); fell 5-16 to Parker (March 6) and 1-5 to Fountain Hills (March 6), edged Phoenix Country Day School (March 7), and fell 2-10 to Phoenix Horizon Honors (March 7) during the Desert Classic; and defeated Joseph City 16-4 (March 10).

Nine returned in seniors Mark Ballejos, Tate Skousen, and Easton Waters along with juniors Justus Burt, Joseph Bushman, Ryan Lucero, Dion Perry, Dason Spencer, and Gaige Trickey.

Willcox Cowboys

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci senior pitcher Tayshaun Blackman warms up for possible relief work during the season opener in Safford on Feb. 28.

Willcox was edged 1-2 as No. 19 by No. 14 Scottsdale Prep in the 2019 first round.

The 2020 Cowboys (1-3, 1-2, 0-1 East Region) downed Globe 11-1 (March 2) and fell 1-6 to Saint David (March 3) and 0-6 to Morenci (March 10). They also fell 3-7 to Bisbee (March 12) before withdrawing from the host’s tourney.

Four Cowboys returned in seniors David Peterson and Derek Terry along with juniors Ote Allsup and Damien Vasquez.

Pima Roughriders

Pima was sent home with a 1-11 loss as No. 23 to No. 10 Morenci during a 2019 play-in game.

The 2020 Roughriders (0-6, 0-6, 0-4 East Region) posted six consecutive seeding losses, 1-8 to Miami (Feb. 27), 1-7 to Tombstone (Feb. 28), 1-13 to Heber Mogollon (March 5), 0-14 (March 6) and 0-10 (March 10) to Benson, and 10-19 to Morenci (March 13).

Nine Roughriders returned in seniors Easton Bryce, Jesus Hernandez, Taylor Hewitt, Damian Hoopes, Aldo Molinar, Teddy Rector, and Jathen Trujillo along with juniors Kase Lunt and Reggie Stewart.

Safford Bulldogs

Safford downed No. 22 Lakeside Blue Ridge 8-5 as the 3A No. 15 in a 2019 play-in game before falling 1-3 to No. 2 Queen Creek American Leadership in the 2019 state tourney first round.

The 2020 Bulldogs (10-0, 4-0, 0-0 South Region) went unscathed through 10 games, besting Morenci 4-2 (Feb. 28), Snowflake 13-1 (March 3); Winkelman Hayden 1-0 (March 5), Round Valley 8-0 (March 5), Coolidge 8-3 (March 6), Queen Creek San Tan Valley 2-1 (March 6), Florence 6-5 (March 7), and Winslow 11-10 (March 7) during the Joe Padilla Tourney; Blue Ridge 12-2 (March 10), and Florence 19-0 (March 13). It is one of the best starts in school history.

“Our team was looking forward to the Lions Tournament,” head coach Robert Abalos said. “It’s a well-run tournament with a ton of support from the Morenci community.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Safford head coach Robert Abalos leaves the 2020 baseball team after reviewing the season-opening win over Morenci on Feb. 28. The Bulldogs posted a 10-0 record before the season was canceled.

“It was a time of year to get some games in and give players an opportunity to play before heading into the state tournament,” he added. “It also gave some of our arms a rest if needed.”

“It’s unfortunate that the season was cut short as we had a solid team and liked our chances at a state championship run,” Abalos said. “I would like to take the opportunity to thank the 2020 baseball team and coaches.”

The Bulldogs’ roster included seniors Jerick Arbizo, Mason Duros, Gunner Higgins, Keegan McKinney, and Justin Torrio; juniors Angel Atencio, Noah Bevins, Jejdrique Chavez, Alyxx Garcia, Mathew Hensley, Edwardo Ogaz, and Landan Shurtz; and sophomores James Maldonado, Josh Robles, and Victor Trujillo.

Bob Park, Jeb Bevins, Stephen Walden, Jeff Faunce, and Mario Mesa assisted Abalos.