With plenty of their classmates relaxing at home or traveling the country on spring break, the Palm Desert baseball team took the field Monday focused on making the most out of the 53rd Coachella Valley Rotary Baseball Tournament, which kicked off Monday around the valley.
The Aztecs, a perennial baseball power in the valley and in southern California, needed a boost after an upset loss to Palm Springs 2-0 in the team’s second game of Desert Valley League action on Friday. Head coach Darol Salazar and his players returned to the tournament last year for the first time in recent memory, but failed to make the finals. After a shaky start to this season playing plenty of talent out of the DVL and the valley, Salazar said he hopes to use the tournament as a springboard to more consistency going into the meat of the season.
“We like to play at a certain level, and it doesn’t matter who we play. We want to work on some things,” Salazar said. “I just think we need to be more consistent. We haven’t been as consistent as I’d like, but we have the players that are very good.”
The Aztecs started their tournament run off Monday beating Cathedral City handily 11-0 at home in a non-league game. Palm Desert also will have a chance to see Indio, another DVL opponent, in a non-league game Tuesday at home.
For senior shortstop Travis Moniot, this tournament is his own spring break treat, getting a chance to see how DVL opponents plan to compete against them and try to dethrone the kings of Coachella Valley baseball.
“We look to this tournament to get things rolling and see how some teams shape up against us and how we can match up with them when we meet them in the league,” Moniot said.
For other programs in the 12-team field, this week’s tournament is just about turning a season around, even if they don’t win a single game.
Notre Dame High School out of Riverside came to the valley for the Rotary Tournament for the first time in the middle of a struggling season for the Titans. Notre Dame entered the tournament 4-6-1, including losses in four of their last five.
With the heart of their Ambassador League schedule just two weeks away, assistant coach Dan Baytosh said coming to the valley is just about getting as many games in as possible for his players.
“We’re trying to get some innings for the kids,” Baytosh said. “Last week, we lost all four games in a tournament in games we were winning, and then we’d get to the fifth inning, and we were struggling to get the ball across the plate. That’s tough.”
The Titans grabbed a win Monday 6-2 against Pool C opponent Perris at Coachella Valley High School. Panthers head coach Flavio Espinoza, who’s in his first year coaching at Perris, said playing in the tournament is all about the coaches and players having more chances to work together and create a closer-knit group, whether they win or not.
“We’re trying to have our guys mesh as a team. We’re trying to turn our program around, so hopefully by coming here, we can turn things around and maybe even get a win,” said Espinoza, whose team is now 1-9 after Monday’s loss. “It’s just a little adjustment here and there. We need a grounder, and instead we get a popup. It’s just making the right adjustments at the right time, and if we can do that, we can compete with anyone and be successful.”
Salazar said he and Jerry Tripp, the Coachella Valley athletic director and the director of this year’s tournament, hope to bring the tournament back to a standing as one of the premier competitions in southern California. For now, the field has a broad spectrum of teams looking to accomplish different goals during the four days.
But for every team involved, the Coachella Valley Rotary Baseball Tournament can lead to a boost when league play begins.
“For us, we’re a small school, only 400 kids, so a lot of times, we’re overmatched in these tournaments,” Baytosh said. “But it’s a competitive mix of teams.”
La Quinta vs. Royal at La Quinta High School, 11 a.m.
Coachella Valley vs. Notre Dame at Coachella Valley High School, 11 a.m.
Palm Desert vs. Indio at Palm Desert High School, noon
San Jacinto vs. Cathedral City at Cathedral City High School, 3 p.m.
Perris vs. Desert Christian Academy at Coachella Valley High School, 4 p.m.
Shadow Hills vs. Xavier Prep at Shadow Hills High School, 5:30 p.m.
Palm Desert vs. San Jacinto at Palm Desert High School, 11 a.m.
Indio vs. Cathedral City at Indio High School, 11 a.m.
La Quinta vs. Shadow Hills at La Quinta High School, 11 a.m.
Royal vs. Xavier Prep at Xavier Prep High School, 11 a.m.
Coachella Valley vs. Perris at Coachella Valley High School. noon
Desert Christian Academy vs. Notre Dame at Coachella Valley High School, 3 p.m.
All teams will play two addiotional games at sites to be determined. The top team from each pool, along with the single top second-place team, will face off in the semifinals before determining a champion.