March 9, 2005 - If last week's 12th Annual Cactus Classic is any indication of how the upcoming baseball season will play out, 2005 promises to be an explosive year filled with high-powered offenses and plenty of runs to go around.
Pacing the way is Class 4A Catalina Foothills High School, which swept through the annual four-day, 32-team tournament en route to claiming its fifth Cactus Classic title.
In six games, the Falcons outscored their opponents by a 62-19 margin. Even though they crossed the plate 46 times in the first three games, alone, their bats only got stronger as the tourney progressed.
"We hit the ball better in the last game than we did in pool play," said Foothills assistant coach J.J. Northam.
In the championship game held at Amphitheater High School, the Falcons went 10-25 from the batter's box, blanking El Paso Socorro 5-0.
The Falcons are groomed for a state title run. Last year Foothills finished as Class 4A state runner-up, losing 9-3 in the championship game to Scottsdale Chaparral High School. This year the team has reloaded with a veteran group that includes 13 seniors.
Even with its live bats, pitching may be the difference between winning a state title and finishing runner-up. Returning to head up the rotation are John James and Dan Butler, who won 19 of the Falcons' 26 wins last year as juniors. Throw in closer Jim Dever, and the Falcons have a solid one-two punch that rivals any in the state. Butler has already signed on to take his arm to the Ivy League next season, where he will pitch for Dartmouth. James will join the University of Arizona in the fall.
"With them, we will go," said Northam of James and Butler.
In the championship game, however, it was a freshman that staked his claim in the rotation. Kayvan Bahramzadeh tossed a complete game shutout, allowing just five hits while striking out nine Bulldogs.
Bahramzadeh becomes the first Foothills hurler to pitch a complete game since 1995. Behind the freshman and the rest of the rotation is a team strong up the middle including Dever at shortstop, senior catcher Kyle Houlton and junior outfielder Brayden Ashdown.
With six wins in the Cactus Classic, the Falcons are off to a 7-0 start. Before shutting out Socorro in the finals, Foothills dismantled Catalina, 13-4; Phoenix Sunrise Mountain, 13-7; El Paso Andress, 20-1; Sahuaro, 6-3; and Peoria Centennial, 5-4.
Pitcher Joe Rohe notched the win in both the Andress and Centennial games, combining to throw eight innings and seven strikeouts.
Since 1996, the Falcons are 33-4 in Cactus Classic play.
Before advancing to the championship game, El Paso Socorro first had to outlast another Northwest powerhouse. The Bulldogs needed an extra frame to get past Canyon del Oro, 8-7, in quarterfinal action.
For the Dorados, 3-1, it was the first loss of what promises to be another strong year for a program that annually turns out collegiate and professional-level talent.
Canyon del Oro High School entered the quarterfinal match-up with wins over Palo Verde, 13-2, and Riverside, 10-1.
In true Dorado fashion, this year's squad has the potential to stack its lineup with solid hitters from leadoff right down through the No. 9 slot, said first year head coach Len Anderson. Solidifying that lineup is a mix of seniors and juniors.
The bat of centerfielder T.J. Steele should help the Dorados forget the veteran firepower the team lost with the graduations of C.J. Ziegler, David Hoag and Kyle Creviston.
CDO will be strong up the middle with juniors Mike Weldon, shortstop, and Ryan Lush behind the plate. Weldon hit .487 with 38 hits and 19 RBI as a sophomore last season.
The big question concerning the Dorados this year is the depth of pitching. The Class 5A powerhouse will rely on the arm of Taylor Lewis to shoulder the bulk of the load as the squad's ace. As a sophomore, Lewis fanned 61 batters and allowed only 12 free passes while compiling an 8-2 record last year.
In a clash of the area's best teams, Foothills and CDO will square off against each other March 11 at Catalina Foothills.
All five Northwest and Foothills region teams in Class 4A and 5A took to the field in the Cactus Classic, including Mountain View High School, which, like Foothills and CDO, will rely on its offense to win ball games this year.
With wins over Eastwood High School and Douglas High School, Mountain View (3-3) finished the tourney with a 2-2 record.
The double-play duo Corey Salmand, shortstop, and Kevin Barger, second base, will be among a corps of seniors with varsity experience leading the Mountain Lions this year. Bolstering the Mountain Lions lineup will be Max Johnson, outfield; Jason Brockbank, catcher; and Jake Thelen, centerfield.
Replacing Lee Taylor in the rotation will be tough. Taylor jumped to Pima Community College after graduating last year. Salmand and right-hander Colin Thomson will head first year coach Tony Gabusi's pitching staff.
Pitching is the strength in the Class 4A Sonoran Region. Ironwood Ridge (3-1) and Marana (2-3) will both rely heavily on pitching to survive in a tough region that includes Sunnyside (4-1), Rincon (3-1) and Cholla (3-2).
In the Cactus Classic, both squads won their consolation bracket match-ups. IRHS finished the tourney 3-1 and shut out El Paso Riverside 9-0 on the tournament's final day. Marana fared equally well, also against an El Paso squad, knocking out Irvin, 11-5. The win was the only one for the Tigers, who finished the tourney 1-3.
On the mound, Marana is deep. The duo Ryan Perry and Justin Fischer will make opposing hitters think twice before stepping into the batter's box this season. Perry has been tipping the gun at 90 mph while Fischer's excellent curve ball is complemented with a fast ball ranging from 85 to 87 mph.
When the two are off the mound, Perry plays shortstop, and Fischer plays second base, solidifying the middle of the Tigers infield.
At IRHS, only three players with varsity experience will return to the Nighthawk lineup. Two of those players are pitchers Danny Rossi and Ian Richert. The other returning varsity letter winner from last year's squad is infielder Chris Sutton. Rossi will double up as an outfielder, while Richert will see time at first base when not on the mound.
Last season, IRHS won the Sonoran Region title. Replacing the loss of several seniors, including catcher Matt Denker with his .493 average, 10 home runs and 43 RBI, will be tough.
So far so good for the Nighthawks, who dealt the tourney runner-up one of its two losses. IRHS beat the Bulldogs 4-3 in pool play behind Richert's first win of the year.
While 32 baseball teams were squaring off on diamonds scattered throughout Tucson, 32 softball teams were dueling it out at Sportspark in the Dorado Classic hosted by Canyon del Oro High School, March 3 through 5. The girls of CDO were among four teams declared co-champions after rain washed away the final day of play. The other three were Sabino, Sahuaro and Sierra Vista Buena. Before showers could end play for the day, CDO held off Mesa Mountain View 4-3 for its only win. Marana split its games, winning 12-11 over Desert View and dropping one to Mesa Mountain View 11-4. IRHS found itself .500 on the day beating El Paso Bel Aire 12-0. The Nighthawks then lost to Sierra Vista in the quarterfinals, 4-2.