Empire overcomes loss of player to reach semis

Empire overcomes loss of player to reach semis

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Empire overcomes loss of player to reach semis

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In some cases, a team can add through subtraction.

Take the Tucson Empire baseball team as one example.

Earlier this week, Empire lost one of its starting players, who left the team for personal reasons. While the loss was a shock to team members, the reality of losing a significant player rallied the squad together and created production.

The end result was wins over Winslow and Scottsdale Christian to reach the Division III baseball quarterfinals. Empire continued to build on the emotion and proceeded to take out Bisbee 14-1 Saturday afternoon at the Surprise Sports Complex.

Empire will play Payson in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Surprise Stadium.

Scoring in five of the seven innings, Empire pounded out 17 hits and road the coattails of pitcher Colton Stokes, who threw a complete a game.

According to Empire coach Tom Belter, Stokes pitched his best game of the season against Bisbee. In the process, the senior right-hander allowed six base runners for the seven innings, including five hits and Stokes hit a batter.

If the team came together after one player left, Stokes has his own motivation. Losing his father to a heart attack earlier this season, Stokes says he mindful of his dad’s presence and continues to take inspiration.

“He’s always watching and pushing me,” Stokes said. “He told me to give everything all the time and leave nothing on the field.”

In beating Bisbee, Stokes clearly carried his dad’s thoughts. Indicating the curve was his out pitch, Stokes said he also had good fast ball command and effectively kept hitters off balance. For the complete game, the 5-10, 180 pounder walked none and struck out three.

“Since his dad died, Colton has been really focused,” Belter said. “He gives everything he has, and just plays his guts out. He is a very effective ground-ball pitcher and that showed (Saturday).

Of the 21 outs in his complete game, Stokes induced Bisbee hitters to ground out 10 times, including three times in the seventh to end the game.

If Stokes limited Bisbee’s chances, the offense did not disappoint.

Sophomore second baseman Donny Sands, whom Belter called the best high school player he has coached, sparked the run production with a 4-for-5 afternoon, knocking in five runs.

Lead-off hitter Brenden Thaggard also went 4-for-5, scored three runs, and second baseman Ryan Stewart added three hits and scored twice.

The lone Bisbee run came in the fourth when first baseman Anthony Castellano doubled home catcher Dustin Maestas, who also doubled.

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