By Alex Zener
After losing 13 seniors to graduation and only returning seven players from last season’s team, it was assumed that this spring would most like be a rebuilding year for Corona’s baseball program. Wait–not so fast.
The Aztecs youthful and relatively inexperienced baseball team started the season going undefeated, 4-0, at the Adam Donnenfield Tournament 2018 and then won two out of the next three games to start the season with a 6-1 record.
The Aztecs defeated Marcos de Niza, Feb. 21, 10-0, North Canyon, Feb. 22, 14-3, Gila Ridge, Feb. 23, 11-0, and then Brophy College Prep, Feb. 23, 7-0 at the Adam Donnenfield. They then went on to defeat Dobson, 17-1 on March 1 and Copper Canyon, 23-0 on March 2 after losing to Red Mountain 4-1 on Feb. 28.
Corona outscored their opponents over the first seven games, 86-5.
“We had a good season last spring with an experienced team who took us all the way to the 6A state semifinals,” said head coach Dave Webb. “We didn’t know quite what to expect after losing so many seniors, but I love the young and talented group of players who came out this spring.”
Out of the seven returning players, only four were starters last season: Senior Matt Novis, outfielder and pitcher; junior Daniel Sotelo, pitcher; and juniors Wyatt Berry and Brian Kalmer, both infielders.
“I am expecting these four returning starters, along with seniors Erik Weidner, Teddy Ladley and Luke Eno, to have a big impact on our young team not only by setting examples with their play during practice and games but by their leadership on and off the field,” said Webb.
“Matt Novis, Brian Kalmer and Wyatt Berry are some of our best batters along with junior outfielder Matteo Baker, sophomore center fielder Cade Verdusco and sophomore shortstop Hunter Haas.”
“Baker is a great hitter in all fields while Verdusco is speedy and super athletic hitting .600 on the freshman team last year,” said Webb. “Verdusco has already verbally committed to Grand Canyon University while Haas, who has already committed to Oregon State, is a slick fielding shortstop.”
Pitching and defense are the Aztecs main strengths as a team, according to Webb, and Corona has three starting pitchers who will play a big role in the team’s success this season.
“Daniel Sotelo and Matt Novis, who has verbally committed to Yavapai, both pitched for us last season,” said Webb. “We also have sophomore Bryan Webb, a solid left-handed pitcher, who set the freshman ERA record last year with a .90 ERA. Bryan will also start at first base.”
Sotelo started as pitcher in six games last season, as a sophomore, and is credited with winning four games according to the stat sheet. He pitched over 40 innings with an ERA of 2.54. Novis made nine appearances last year pitching over 13 innings.
Senior Luke Eno, a right-hand pitcher, is also a returning starter but is injured. He will hopefully able to come back soon, according to Webb.
Berry, Haas and Webb are strong infield players who have helped with the Aztecs defense while Verdusco and Novis provide strong outfield defense.
Junior Jack Schobinger shores up the defense from the catcher position.
“Jack is a catcher who can straight up throw the ball,” said Webb. “He is a great defensive player.”
The Aztecs were scheduled to play at home against Desert Ridge March 7 and Hamilton March 9 before playing at the 2018 Boras Classic in Lehi, UT, over spring break, March 14-17.
After the young team gains some valuable experience over the break, Corona will return to their regular season schedule on March 20 when they play two away games: at Mountain View, March 20, and then at Mountain Ridge on March 24.
“This year’s team is made up of lots of talented players and some super human beings that I love being around,” said Webb. ” Experience is all that this team lacks.”
“If we grow up in a hurry, this season could be really fun. We’ll see what happens as the season progresses.”
Marcos de Niza Baseball
The Padres started the season playing in the Adam Donnenfield Tournament 2018 Feb. 21-24 against mainly 6A schools where they lost the first three games before coming back to defeat Gila Ridge 5-4 on Feb. 24.
Since that tournament, Marcos has won two out of three games defeating Youngker 13-3 on Feb. 26 and St. Mary’s 10-4 on March 2.
Junior pitcher Elias Martinez is credited with the wins against both Youngker and St. Mary’s. He pitched five innings against the Roughriders allowing only two hits and three runs while striking out six batters.
Junior pitcher Riley McDonnel is credited with the 5-4 win against Gila Ridge.
Additional pitchers who have seen time on the pitching mound for the Padres so far this season are senior Eric Oden who has pitched 13 innings where he allowed only10 hits against him while striking out 14 players.
Three freshman pitchers have played in this early part of the season: Alex Denham, Rafael Armenta and Daniel Rodriguez.
Playing outfield positions for the Padres are seniors Kevin Dunnahoo, Michael Rosales and Oden, sophomore Nate Meyer and freshman Armenta and Rodriguez
Senior Nick Leach plays shortstop and is joined in the infield by seniors JP Patterson, Tyler Daraban, Max l’Heureux, Adam Sebastian, juniors AJ Montiel and Matt Bergevin and sophomore Ethan Galetti.
Marcos was scheduled to play at Shadow Mountain March 6 and at Sunrise Mountain March 8. Over spring break the Padres are playing in the Highland Tournament March 12-15.
The first game scheduled at the Highland Tournament is against Desert Ridge on March 12 and then Williams Field on March 13.
The next regular season game will be March 16 at Saguaro, then the Padres are scheduled to play two home games: March 20 against Cortez and March 22 against Casa Grande.
Corona’s head boys volleyball coach Geoff Horewitch is optimistic about his team this season because of their athletic ability on defense and their versatility on offense.
“We have a good core of six returning players plus some new athletic players which should help us play better defensively,” said Horewitch. “In addition, almost all of the players on this season’s team can play multiple positions which should allow us to spread the ball around more to keep teams off balance thus making us better offensively.”
The six returning players will each have an impact based on the position they play on the team.
“Senior Chris Davis has been on the varsity team all four years and is probably now one of the top players in the state,” said Horewitch. “He is, in my opinion, the number one setter
in Arizona but has the ability to play anywhere on the court so he will possibly be switching positions to outside hitter to help the team.”
“Chris had a brother who played outside hitter at Corona until he graduated in 2012,” said Horewitch. “Chris may try to break his hitting record. Regardless, he is one of our captains and a tremendous team leader.”
“Senior Ryan Pike is another player who has been on the team a number of years. He has been a starting outside hitter since his sophomore year and has gotten even stronger this winter,” said Horewitch.
“Senior Dallin Dayes and junior James Watson return as our two middle blockers where they have grown and improved after gaining valuable experience playing club ball,” said Horewitch. “Senior Trey Kuyper has improved and become more versatile as well. He can play on either the right or outside hitting positions.”
“Currently, Chris Davis is one of our go-to hitters along with Ryan Pike and James Watson,” said Horewitch. “That means we need a setter if we use Chris as a hitter.”
“Our last returning starter, junior Niko Zeiner, has grown as a setter and become a dominate person on the court. He is able to set the ball anywhere for our hitters,” said Horewitch. “He was top five in the state last year in aces and should be able to repeat that this year.”
In addition to setting, Zeiner is one of the strongest blockers on the team along with Davis and Dayes, according to Horewitch.
After losing four senior starters and two players who came in off the bench to graduation, the Aztecs needed to find some players who offered promise to replace these seniors.
Horewitch feels lucky to have found some help in a senior transfer and a talented freshman.
“Senior transfer Preston Schoenhardt, who will need to sit out half the season before he can play in a game, brings a wealth of volleyball knowledge to help our newer players,” said Horewitch.
“Preston can also play several different positions which should really benefit our team’s overall success.”
“Then we have freshman Tyler Lai who brings a lot of athletic ability and a high ceiling to our team,” said Horewitch.
Although Corona has the offensive hitters and front-line defensive positions lined up, Horewitch is a bit concerned about the back row defensive libero position.
“We graduated our starting libero last spring and what we did not have was a starting libero waiting in the wings as we have had in past seasons,” said Horewitch. “So far, our best diggers are Chris
Davis and Preston Schoenhardt, who are needed at other positions. We will be analyzing back row players to hopefully determine a starting libero.”
Additional players who contribute to the team’s overall success on and off the court include seniors Matthew Burgess and Filip Nedelkov, juniors Santiago Connolly and Yuki Yamada and sophomore Sebastian Burgos.
The Aztecs were scheduled to play at Higley on March 8. The next regular season game is scheduled for March 20 at home against Mountain View, at Seton Catholic March 21 and at home against Chandler, March 22.