Baseball Season Preview: Can Valley defend its title, plus two other stories to watch | MyWindsorNow.com

Baseball Season Preview: Can Valley defend its title, plus two other stories to watch

Bobby Fernandez
bfernandez@greeleytribune.com

Play ball!

There may not be a spring sport rooted in more local tradition than baseball.

There also are few sports more rooted in championship gold locally.

Eaton has more state baseball titles than any Colorado program with 11, and defending Class 3A Valley is third in the state with eight.

So, naturally, those two programs are where the most intriguing local storylines begin, but the intrigue extends well beyond the Reds and Vikings.

Here are three things to keep an eye on during this spring's local baseball season:

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1. can Valley defend its 3A title in the face of hefty competition?

This past May, Valley won its eighth title but its first since 1983.

If the Vikings (already 3-0 this spring) are going to repeat, they'll have to do so with numerous players stepping up and taking on larger roles, notably junior catcher/pitcher Tyler Kissler, senior outfielder Kyle Bol and junior infielder Dominik Triana.

Valley graduated some of its biggest contributors from a year ago, including Shawn Chacon and Cesar Mercado.

However, the Vikings also have two of their best players from a year ago back, seniors Ivan Rodriguez and Jose Mercado, last season's CHSAANow.com 3A Player of the Year.

But, the task of defending its title won't be easy, in the least. Valley will be well challenged by a slew of fellow contenders — including senior-led Eaton (1-1) — in a very balanced 3A classes.

2. Which Greeley team will step up to be the king of the town?

County teams have often dominated the postseason baseball headlines in recent years.

That's fixing to change.

Greeley Central, Greeley West, Northridge, Dayspring Christian and University all possess notable talent this spring.

In particular, the Grizzlies and Bulldogs are coming off strong seasons that ended in heart-break a year ago.

University appeared to be one of the elite contenders in 3A this past spring, during a 15-5 campaign.

The 3A Bulldogs lost a 3-2 nail-biter against Faith Christian in regionals to fall short of advancing to the state tournament.

University (1-0) returns with a new coach, Casey Miller, but has several talented familiar faces, including seniors Cameron Multer, Grayson Swanson and Levi Dart and junior Kalob Padilla.

Class 4A Northridge (2-2) went 15-5 this past spring but also lost in regionals, 11-8 to Holy Family.

The Grizzlies look to bounce back this year with a deep, talented roster, led by seniors Chance Eben, Kaylor Werner and Trey Vasquez and junior Tayler Aguilar.

3. Can 4A Tri-Valley contenders Windsor and Roosevelt make an extended postseason run?

Roosevelt (11-9 this past season) was resurgent a year ago, while Windsor (18-3-1) was its normal, steady self.

The Wizards placed first in the 4A Tri-Valley Conference, while the Rough Riders were second.

Neither team was able to follow up its strong regular season with extended postseason runs, however.

Windsor lost 1-0 in the 4A Region 5 title game, while Roosevelt fell 4-2 to Mountain View in the first round of 4A Region 8.

Deeper postseason runs could be in the cards for each team, as the Wizards have a ton of talent back, led by seniors Braden Peninger, Ryan Jares and Zach Watts.

Roosevelt (3-0) has deep, stellar pitching, led by Connery O'Donnell, Brandin Obrecht and TJ Sterling and one of the county's top middle infielders, senior shortstop Bo Slaymaker.

Baseball preview capsules

Eaton Reds

» COACH: Todd Hernandez, second season

» 2017 RECAP: Eaton finished in a tie for third in the Class 3A Patriot League before winning its regional and advancing to the state tournament for the 25th consecutive season. The Reds beat Colorado Academy in the state semifinals before dropping the state championship game to Valley. The Reds finished with a 6-3 record in conference play, 18-9 overall.

» KEY ATHLETES: P Travis Cunningham, sr.; C Ryder Rich, sr.; OF Jake Sandau, sr.; OF Zeke Hass, sr.; IF Killian Williams, sr.; P Jared Ure, jr.; IF CJ Blaskowski, jr.

» OUTLOOK: The Reds return many key contributors from last season and have experience at the top of their rotation (Cunningham was 5-1 last season, Ure had a 1.83 earned-run average). However, they will use the early part of the season to find out who will add depth to the pitching staff, Hernandez said. Eaton also looks to replace its starting middle infield. Offensively, the Reds return the heart of the order, led by Rich and Sandau, who combined for 73 RBI last spring.

Greeley Central Wildcats

» COACH: Zach Brockman, eighth season

» 2017 RECAP: The Wildcats started off well but dealt with three key injuries that led to a 3-16 overall record.

» KEY ATHLETES: P Sage Hudson, sr.; SS Jaren Lesser, sr.; OF Xavier Bonham, sr.; 3B, P Cesar Loma, jr.; 2B, P Gavan Blackburn, jr.; C Alex Yeadon, sr.

» OUTLOOK: The Wildcats have a senior-heavy team with eight returning players from last year’s squad. Brockman said that Central expects to compete in a very challenging 4A Northern Conference.

Greeley West Spartans

» COACH: Brian Holmes, 12th season

» 2017 RECAP: The Spartans were on the verge of completing their best season in five years with mostly sophomores and juniors before losing six of seven games down the stretch to finish 4-8 in the 5A Front Range League and 6-13 overall.

» KEY ATHLETES: P Cedric Corrales, sr.; OF/P Luis DeLeon, sr.; OF Riley Colbeth, jr.; P Tyler Holmes, jr.

» OUTLOOK: Holmes said he believes the adversity the Spartans faced down the stretch last year will only benefit his team this season. All 14 roster spots belong to returners, and much of the starting lineup remains underclassmen. West’s pitching staff is deeper than ever – as many as eight players will see action on the mound this year. Yet the task remains arduous: a Front Range League team has played in the state championship game in eight of the past 11 years, including last year when Rocky Mountain beat league rival Broomfield.

Highland Huskies

» COACH: Keith Juarez, eighth season

» 2017 RECAP: The Huskies finished with 3-5 record in 2A Mile High League play, 8-12 overall.

» KEY ATHLETES: SS/P Ricardo Ramirez, sr.; C Hunter Routh, jr.; CF Jacob Smith, sr.; LF Austin Anderson , sr.; 2B/P Manuel Rivas, jr., DH/3B Parker Croy, jr.

» OUTLOOK: Highland graduated only one starter from a year ago and it returns all its key players, including all-state P/SS Ramirez. The Huskies will finally have some depth at each position and look to compete for a league title, Juarez said.

Northridge Grizzlies

» COACH: Mike Huston, 18th season

» 2017 RECAP: Northridge had a 15-4 regular season and tied for the 4A Northern Conference title. The Grizzlies were upset in the first round of the tournament and finished the season with a 15-5 record.

» KEY ATHLETES: P Chance Eben, sr.; OF/P Kaylor Werner, sr.; OF Tayler Aguilar, jr.; SS/P Trey Vasquez, sr.

» OUTLOOK: The Grizzlies will have good arms on the mound and the key will be if they can find ways to score runs, Huston said. If the players buy into the team concept the Grizzlies will have another good season, Huston added.

Platte Valley Broncos

» COACH: Jason Arkulari, third season

» 2017 RECAP: Platte Valley advanced to the first round of the 3A postseason, falling to Peak to Peak 6-2. The Broncos finished with a 4-5 record in the 3A Patriot League, 9-11 overall.

» KEY ATHLETES: P/1B Hunter Thorn, sr.; 3B/SS Eric Smith, sr.; SS/P Ernesto Rios, jr.; C Logan Widick, jr.; 2B/OF Brandon Kerbs, jr.; P/OF/3B David King, soph.

» OUTLOOK: Arkulari said he expects his team to compete in the tough Patriot League. The team’s strength will be its starting pitching. Arkulari said the team has a corps of dedicated players that have put in the time and work to have a great season. With a team-first mentality, the Broncos have the opportunity to accomplish their goals, Arkulari added.

Roosevelt Rough Riders

» COACH: Jerod Cronquist, second season

» 2017 RECAP: Roosevelt finished the season with an overall record of 11-9, including a 10-4 4A Tri-Valley record, which was good for a second-place finish in the conference. The Rough Riders lost in the opening round of districts to Mountain View, 4-2.

» KEY ATHLETES: P Connery O’Donnell, sr.; P Brandin Obrecht, sr.; P TJ Sterling, sr.; SS Bo Slaymaker, sr.; C Tannor Shuffler, jr.; 3B Sammy Grim, jr.

» OUTLOOK: The Rough Riders will go as far as their pitching takes us this spring, Cronquist said. They return three impact arms and have great overall depth on their pitching staff. Offensively, Roosevelt lost a lot of pop from last season but has better team speed this year, so it will have to generate runs playing small ball, Cronquist added.

Valley Vikings

» COACH: Steve Kissler, 13th season

» 2017 RECAP: The Vikings finished the regular season with a 6-3 record in the 3A Patriot League and a 13-6 overall record. Valley beat Alamosa and Delta in regionals before posting a 4-1 record in the 3A state tournament, finishing the season with a 19-7 record and its eighth state championship.

» KEY ATHLETES: P/SS Jose Mercado, sr.; P/3B Ivan Rodriguez, sr.; OF Kyle Bol, sr.; C/P Tyler Kissler, jr.; IF Dominik Triana, jr.

» OUTLOOK: The Vikings return several key players from the state title team, including 3A Player of the Year Mercado and Rodriguez, who combined for 24 starts on the mound. Also returning are starting catcher Tyler Kissler and infielder Triana. Valley looks to compete in the highly competitive Patriot League and looks forward to a strong run into the regional and state tournament, Steve Kissler said.

Windsor Wizards

» COACH: Brad Deal, seventh season

» 2017 RECAP: The Wizards were 4A Tri-Valley Conference champions and had a 17-2 overall record. They lost in the district tournament.

» KEY ATHLETES: Windsor has 14 returning seniors from last year’s team, and they are all keys players, Deal said.

» OUTLOOK: The Wizards hope to compete for the conference title. Their kids have worked very hard all year long to be ready for the season, Deal said. Team chemistry is a positive for Windsor, Deal added, as is returning a lot of varsity experience.

— Capsules compiled by Bobby Fernandez. Coaches are responsible for provide preview information.