The message from Pusch Ridge Christian Academy assistant baseball coach Steven Ambuehl to his team last Tuesday afternoon was simple: get to work.
Ambuehl, who assumed coaching duties for the Lions’ home clash with Sabino High School after head coach David Landrith hit the road for a conference, knows how far his team is from finding paydirt on the diamond.
The Lions’ were reacquainted with that fact last Tuesday, when defending 3A state champion Sabino pounded out an 11-0 win on Pusch Ridge’s home field.
For Ambuehl, the main take away from the one-sided defeat was for his players to find motivation from their plight.
“I think there’s definitely some new parts that are in place, and I think that it’s always a little bit of a challenge to get everybody on board,” Ambuehl said.
Ambuehl is confident the Lions can get with the program, with a wealth of talented players on their roster. The key, according to him, is for the players to take that next step in their development.
“There’s always going to be a wealth of talent here in Oro Valley, and we’re the recipient of that, so we’re in a very good place,” Ambuehl said. “And we have guys that really know the game and are willing to work hard at it and know what it takes to be good, and so we’re just trying very hard every day to take positive steps forward and learn from mistakes.”
The Lions’ fate was sealed in the game’s third inning, when Pusch Ridge starting pitcher Matthew Webber allowed four runs. That frame positioned the Sabercats to take a 6-0 lead, proving far too large a deficit for the Lions to overcome.
Pusch Ridge was able to muster one hit off Sabino’s pitching staff, with junior starting pitcher Andrew Calloway and relievers Joey Parker and Mike Snyder striking out eight batters in five innings.
Junior Zach Vincent knows that the Lions aren’t playing up to their potential to-date, with a 5-11 record so far.
Vincent, who went 0-2 last Tuesday with a flyout and a strikeout, believes the Lions will learn from their recent struggles, turning the tide in the second half of the season.
“I don’t think we’re playing to our potential, obviously,” he said. “I just think that throughout the season, we need to develop a mindset of winning and we need to compete with these teams that we know we can play with.”
Junior shortstop Ryan Garcia knows that games like Tuesday’s are tough to go through, but that the team can learn a lot during the process.
Garcia said playing in the ultra-competitive 3A South region, alongside perennial powers like Sabino and Sahuarita, is a challenge, but that the team is ready to get to work.
“It’s tough, I’ll tell you that and we’ve got some good ball players, good teams,” Garcia said. “It’s fun. Every time we play them. Last year, year before, it’s been great games. I mean it’s been fun.”
The Lions’ tough luck continued through the week, with losses to Catalina (2-0) and Sahuarita (10-0) to round out last week. Pusch Ridge next faces Tanque Verde at home Tuesday, April 2 after deadline.
IRHS outlasts Buena, 8-7
Last Wednesday, Ironwood Ridge’s baseball teams turned a misplayed fly ball to left field into a one-run victory over the Buena Colts. The soaring ball, which came off the bat of Levi White, careened off the glove of the Colts’ left fielder, allowing third baseman Ajay Ram to score the winning run from third.
The strange walk-off situation was the final act in an odd ballgame, which featured multiple lead changes and frustration on both sides of the diamond, with Ironwood Ridge winning, 8-7.
For longtime Ironwood Ridge coach Kevin Baker, the team’s effort in the one-run win was not up to par, leading to a stern postgame huddle and his players running sprints along the right field line.
The late-night running drills were a reminder that a close victory wasn’t enough, given the team’s on-field lapses and lackadaisical play, according to Baker.
“We played well enough to win, which, in the end, is what you need,” Baker said. “We have great young men. We just need to work on getting the little things done.”
Baker’s message wasn’t lost on the players, according to senior shortstop Nathan Baez.
“We just need to come out with more energy, just play better as a team, that’s it,” he said. “We can’t have bad games like that,” Baez said. “We didn’t play as well as we wanted to. We still came out with a win and that’s all that matters, but we just need to come out better tomorrow and then the next day.”
What exactly caused Baker to discipline his players may have seemed unclear from the outside, though catcher Dylan Inclán provided some insight.
Inclán, who belted a two-run home run over the left-field scoreboard in the game’s second inning, said the team’s on-field follies will serve them well in the long run.
“We were making some bad plays, and our pitchers might have been struggling, but everyone was working hard, grinding,” he said. “They were putting their best foot forward, and that’s what ultimately gave us the win.”
Baez said his coach’s postgame message was well-timed, coming on the heels of the team’s 4-2 loss to defending 4A champion Nogales Tuesday, March 26. The future Arizona State Sun Devil said the team understood Baker’s frustration, acknowledging their sloppy play of-late.
He said the team’s on-field camaraderie was on full display during a team meeting, which happened after Baker and his assistants talked to the players.
Baez said the Nighthawks took responsibility for their lapse in focus, beating Sunnyside Friday, March 29, 11-0, to improve to 10-6 this season.
Baez said the key to what Baker told the team was that their cohesion allowed them to ultimately win a game that they would have lost in years past.
“We just have great team chemistry,” he said. “All the seniors, we’re really close, and we’re just going to come out and play. That’s going to help us win some games that we might have lost last year.”
The Nighthawks next face Marana on Tuesday, April 2 after deadline.
Elsewhere in northwest Tucson last week, the Mountain View Lions (6-12) beat Empire (12-3) and Desert View (8-7). The Marana Tigers went 1-2, falling to Cienega (3-0) and Buena (10-5), while beating Sunnyside (8-4) to improve to 8-7. CDO split its games, beating Sahuaro (4-0), before falling to Salpointe Catholic (11-3) to fall to 12-5-1 this season. The Catalina Foothills Falcons beat Casa Grande (11-3), to improve to 12-5 for the season in the 4A Kino region.
In softball, Ironwood Ridge (14-2) continued their recent run, beating Nogales (17-4), Buena (7-0) and Sunnyside (7-1). CDO (7-3) split its games against Sahuaro and Salpointe Catholic, beating the Cougars (11-1) before falling to the Lancers (6-1).
Mountain View (9-4) won its three games last week, beating Empire (2-0), Rincon/University (10-1) and Desert View (6-1). Both Catalina Foothills and Pusch Ridge Christian Academy were swept last week, with the former falling to Douglas (3-0) and Vista Grande (6-3) to fall to 5-12.
The latter of the two fell to Sabino (7-2), Catalina Magnet (2-0) and Sahuarita (12-0), to move to 7-9 for the year. The Marana Tigers (7-6) spilt their games, beating Cienega (17-4), before falling to Buena (6-5) to close out the week.