Monthly Archives: March 2004

high schools

Cactus softball team remains on top

by Jason Stone

Nobody loves you when you are on top.
Members of the Cactus High School softball team might not remember who made that phrase famous, but the Cobras players can certainly relate to the feeling.
With one of the most dominating pitchers in the state last year, Cactus rolled to the 4A state championship, putting it atop the 4A softball mountain for the first time since 1994.
But with fireballer Kassie Humphreys departing for the University of Kansas, this was supposed to be the year Cactus fell back to Earth, right?
WrOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
That is 12 “wrongs,” one for every opponent Cactus has beaten over the first 12 games.
“It takes more than just a great pitcher to win a state championship,” Cactus coach Jeff Griffith said.
Griffith could be considered an expert on what it takes to win state, having led the Cobras to four state championships in in the last 17 years.
He knows full well one of the keys to staying successful is dodging the bullets aimed at the bull’s-eye on the players’ backs.
“Every game, they’re gunning for us,” said senior all-region catcher Megan McDonald. “It’s a big responsibility and puts weight on our shoulders, but we like to step up to the challenge.”
Cactus certainly met every challenge last year. The Cobras rolled through the Wells Fargo Region unbeaten, outlasted Lake Havasu in a marathon, 17-inning game that took two days to complete and beat rival Centennial four times n including once in the state final game n en route to the championship.
Of course, Humphreys had a lot to do with the team’s success a year ago. The pitcher struck out a then-state record 34 batters against Lake Havasu and shattered just about every team pitching mark.
But Griffth likes to churn out All-State pitchers the way the Denver Broncos produce All-Pro running backs.
Sophomore Katie Holverson has already surpassed what Humphreys accomplished in her first two years in school.
Holverson entered the week with a 12-0 record this year, giving her a career mark of 22-0. The previous best winless record to start a career at Cactus was Lori Perry’s 19 straight wins.
While teammates said Holverson does not throw as hard as Humphreys, Holverson offers a bigger selection of pitches to keep hitters off balance.
“Kassie had the intimidation factor,” McDonald said. “Katie sneaks up on you. You don’t expect her to be as dominating as she is.”
Sneaking up is what Cactus is doing as a team this season.
Twice, the Cobras have entered the seventh inning with the game in a scoreless tie and pulled out wins with runs despite two outs in the final inning.
“We still feel confident if nobody is scoring,” said senior Katie Harrison, one of four captains on the team. “And if we can get to the fifth or sixth inning with a one-run lead, we feel confident.”
Like all good high school teams, Cactus is littered with seasoned club players who are serious about the sport.
Only one of the Cobras players is not a club player, making them conditioned to playing at a high level.
It has helped keep Cactus a target for most opponents, who might not know the Cobras’ roster, but still respect the name brand.
“I don’t know one player on Chaparral, but I know they’ll be good,” Griffith said, giving an example about outside perception of his team. “There are just some teams you know are going to be good every year.”
Count Cactus in the mix. It just might be the best yet again.

Published at glendalestar.com • March 25, 2004

colleges

Gauchos’ dreams dashed in Danville

by Jason Stone

As every Cinderella advances, teams with big goals see their dreams come to an end.
Stanford felt the pain of losing in March Madness last week in the NCAA tournament.
Fans of the Glendale Community College men’s basketball team felt similar agony at the junior college version of March Madness.
Needing to win four games in four nights to win the NJCAA Division 2 Championship, GCC instead lost its two games in Danville, Ill., and did not place at the 12-team tournament.
It was confirmed last week that it was the Gauchos’ first ever trip to the NJCAA tournament in men’s basketball, but GCC’s trip near the Illinois-Indiana border was short.
In the opening game against Penn Valley Community College from Missouri, the Gauchos’ shooting went cold in the first half and the team never recovered from a double-digit deficit in losing 93-82.
With no shot at winning the national title, but still holding the chance to finish fifth through the consolation bracket, GCC ended those hopes with a 85-79 loss to Lewis & Clark Community College in Illinois.
GCC ended its season 26-9, the school’s best season ever.

Published at glendalestar.com • March 25, 2004

high schools

Streeter replaces longtime leader Alonzo

by Jason Stone

When Ray Alonzo announced his retirement from the Apollo High School baseball team after the better part of 30 years as its coach, the Hawks knew they would begin this season with a new era.
But instead of picking a longtime assistant coach or somebody else affiliated with the program as Alonzo’s successor, Apollo decided to go with a completely clean break.
At just 28, with one year of varsity head coaching experience, Dan Streeter was not the obvious choice to take over for the longtime Hawks coach.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACoach Streeter may be young but he’s a top quality coach,” Apollo athletic director Michael Fowler said.
Fowler believed in Streeter so much, in fact, the coach became Fowler’s first big hire after taking over as athletic director last summer.
And just a month into his first season, Streeter has already worked on putting his stamp on a tradition-filled team.
“We’re hoping this high school experience kids take with them the rest of their lives,” said Streeter, a former shortstop in high school and college. “We want to celebrate the tradition. That’s important. Obviously, Coach Alonzo has done a great job in the past and with the players I’m coaching this year. We’re going to continue to use (tradition) as a positive.”
Apollo has had a handful of famous players come through its doors from Bob Horner, the 1978 National League Rookie of the Year, to Paul Lo Duca, the current All-Star catcher and first-baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Of recent note, outfielder Nick Cadena, who broke Horner’s school home run record in 2001, now plays at Arizona State University and could be the next in line for Major League stardom.
As the Hawks begin Desert Sky Region play this week, the team has yet to catch fire. Apollo is 4-7-1 entering the week, meaning Streeter still has work to do to get the team playing up to expectations.
But having the job in the first place was not something Streeter expected.
The former player at Central High School, Scottsdale Community College and Regis University in Colorado, worked as an assistant at Sunnyslope High for two years before spending one season as head coach at his alma mater Central.
“(Coaching the alma mater) was kind of the attraction,” Streeter said. “But it died off quickly. The district runs different from my philosophy.”
So, Streeter applied for an open special education teaching job at Apollo. The opening of the baseball position ended up being a bonus.
“I just wanted a teaching job back in the district,” Streeter said, referring to his previous experience in the Glendale Union High School District with Sunnyslope. “Things opened up and I put my name in a hat.”
Alonzo, who is still teaching at Apollo, has been a valuable resource for Streeter, the new coach said.
“He’s still on campus and we talk daily just about baseball, not necessarily about the program,” Streeter said. “He knows what this region is like, so I use him as a source.”
With the baseball program being the most visible among Apollo’s teams, Fowler said he is hoping for the tradition to continue.
“Tradition is an import aspect with athletics,” Fowler said. “I’m confident that coach Streeter would keep the tradition going. It looks bright for the future.”

Published at glendalestar.com • March 25, 2004

colleges

GCC banks on pitching, World Series experience

by Jason Stone

After 25 years of coaching the baseball team at Glendale Community College, Dave Grant said he’s been around long enough to no longer believe in momentum.
Just take how the Gauchos fared over the last two weeks as an example.
Two weeks ago, GCC traveled to Phoenix College and swept the Bears in a three-game series.
But last week in a three-game tilt at South Mountain Community College, the tables were turned as GCC lost all three.
“It’s hard to figure out,” Grant said. “I’ve decided after 25 years that I don’t believe in momentum, good or bad.”
If Grant ever believed in momentum helping his team, it would have been last season when the Gauchos turned a mediocre start into a run at a national championship.
The Gauchos caught fire late last season, winning the Division 2 crown of the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference, their district tournament a week later and earned a trip to the NJCAA Division 2 World Series in Tennessee.
While the Gauchos did not win at nationals, making it to that level was quite an accomplishment for a team that appeared headed for an uneventful season.
But that World Series run has raised expectations, widened the bull’s eye on their backs and made GCC a highlighted foe on opponents’ schedules.
“For the returning guys, it’s a curse and a blessing,” Grant said about the Gauchos defending its ACCAC crown this season. “On one hand, it gives us something to shoot for because we know (making the World Series) is doable. But it’s a curse because we’re now the so-called preseason favorite. And I think there are some sophomores that think they should be hitting better than they are.”
If GCC is feeling any pressure to duplicate last year’s feat, it is the team’s hitting that has been affected the most through the first 24 games.
The Gauchos, which entered the week 14-10 overall and 6-8 in the ACCAC, were in the bottom half of the conference in batting average (.262) and doubles n two areas Grant is hoping for improvement for the team to move up in the standings.
Fortunately for GCC, pitching has made up for the Gauchos’ hitting struggles.
What was seen as a big question mark entering the season with the loss of Minnesota Twins draft pick Chris Marini has turned into the team’s top strength.
Employing a three-man rotation, but using six pitchers regularly, Grant has cranked out a staff that is fourth in the ACCAC in ERA (2.82) and third in strikeouts.
“I think we’re deeper than last year,” said right-handed starter Reid Kittelson, whose 2.09 ERA through the first six weeks has made him the team’s ace. “We figured we’d have good hitting and defense, but I think the pitching was suspect coming into the season. Now, we have good depth.”
A native of Fargo, N.D., Kittelson came to GCC in a random way. The 6-footer visited the team during a trip to Arizona to watch spring training with his father two years ago. Kittelson threw batting practice one afternoon with a Gauchos assistant and was invited to play with the team last season.
“Guys back home are just getting outside now,” Kittelson said with a smile. “This weather is great.”
Kittelson’s early-season success on the mound has been matched by sophomore righty Thomas Hills, a one-time player at Alhambra High School.
Through his first 30-2/3 innings, Hills has managed a sparkling 1.76 ERA, which was good enough for seventh in the ACCAC entering the week.
Both players experienced the thrill of playing in the NJCAA tournament last year and are aching to get back.
“It was fun playing the best teams in the nation,” Hills said. “We know we can play with them.”
As usual, this year’s version of GCC’s roster is filled with former West Valley prep players.
The school can also be called Mountain Ridge South as four former Mountain Lion players are on the roster.
Sophomores Travis Migliorini (infield), Michael Muscato (catcher), Bryce Pribyl (outfield and first base) and Aaron Turano (pitcher) were part of the MRHS team that made the 5A Final Four in 2002.
Other local names of note are sophomore outfielder Cody Wright, who played at Cactus High, and a pair of ex-Sunrise Mountain High players n sophomore infielder Justin Royko and freshman catcher Devon Amator.
Freshman outfielder Drew Anderson, from Bradshaw Mountain High in Prescott Valley, has been the team’s top hitter in the early season, batting .375 entering the week.
And onetime Greenway star Ryan Mieszala has smacked three homers to tie for the league lead entering the week.
“We have to get more consistent offensively,” Grant said. “We’ve been doing good getting homers (10) and triples (13), but we need to get more singles and move runners around.”

Published at glendalestar.com • March 18, 2004

colleges

Gauchos in own ‘March Madness’

by Jason Stone

There is some debate as to whether the Glendale Community College men’s basketball team has qualified for the NJCAA tournament before this year.
“Somebody said that maybe they made it once in the ’70s,” GCC coach Howard Brown said. “But we’re not really sure.”
While historical record-keeping is not up to the standards of the Smithsonian, it is safe to say GCC has not been to the NJCAA tournament in the lifetime of any of the current players.
“I do know it’s been awhile,” Brown said.
GCC’s national tournament drought ended this week as the Gauchos traveled to Danville, Ill., for the Division 2 championships.
The Gauchos (26-7 overall) began the double-elimination, 12-team event Wednesday evening with a game against Penn Valley (Mo.) Community College (24-8). Results of the game were unavailable at press time.
Had GCC won the game, the Gauchos would have immediately turned around to play Triton (Ill.) College (20-14) Thursday at 4:30 p.m. (Arizona time).
A loss to Penn Valley meant a day off and matchup against the loser of Wednesday’s game between Cuyahoga (Ohio) Community College (20-10) and Lewis & Clark (Ill.) Community College (22-10).
That loser bracket game is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday (Arizona time).
GCC traveled to Illinois Monday in preparation for the tournament.
The Gauchos qualified for junior college version of March Madness by beating Rose State (Okla.) and Johnson County (Kan.) in the district playoffs last week.
Other teams at the NJCAA tournament are Lackawanna (Pa.) College (26-5), Kirkwood (Iowa) Community College (23-7), Erie (N.Y.) Community College (24-7), Bethany Lutheran (Minn.) College (16-12), the Community College of Baltimore County (Md.)-Dundalk (16-14), Mott (Mich.) Community College (29-4) and Bevill State (Ala.) Community College-Fayette.
Columbus State (Ohio) Community College, the top-ranked team in the final NJCAA poll, did not qualify for the tournament.

Published at glendalestar.com • March 18, 2004