With transfers now officially cleared to play beginning, it means it is the halfway point in the baseball season.
Here’s a chance to look at the big winners thus far and things to look forward to down the stretch with the Obert Awards:
Boyd Vander Kooi, Mesa Skyline, Sr.
Vander Kooi is considered the top pitching prospect from the 2017 class in the state, a power pitcher, who has a 0.93 earned-run average, striking out 33 in 22 2/3 innings. He has signed with Arizona State. But few expected Vander Kooi to show off a big bat. He has a .480 batting average with 24 hits, 22 RBIs and six home runs. The home runs ranks second in 6A to Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor junior third baseman Nolan Gorman and one more than last year’s Player of the Year, Nick Brueser of Chandler Hamilton.
Matthew Liberatore, Glendale Mountain Ridge, Jr.
This kid has electric stuff. He showed that last year in the playoffs. Now he’s really picked it up, helping last year’s 6A runnerup team to a 10-2-2 record. He has allowed only two earned runs over 30 innings, striking out 46. He is 4-0 with two complete games.
Best breakout pitcher
Leo Palacios, Phoenix Carl Hayden, Jr.
OK, Carl Hayden’s schedule hasn’t been the most daunting, but this 6-foot-5, 185-pound left-hander draws attention with his 62 strikeouts in 23 1/3 inninngs. That’s nearly three an inning. He struck out 13 of the 15 batters he faced in last week’s 5-1 win over Phoenix Central.
Best small school pitcher
Gabe Ornelas, Safford, Sr.
Phoenix Christian Prep’s Adrian Santa Cruz has been lights out with a 6-0 record and 47 strikeouts and three walks and no earned runs. But Ornelas’ back-to-back no-hitters trumps Santa Cruz’s tremendous first half. Ornelas is 4-0 and has 46 strikeouts and only one earned run allowed.
Prescott Horn, Apache Junction, Sr.
Horn’s quick release has base runners on notice. He threw out five base runners as the Prospectors went 13-3. He has had just one passed ball and has allowed only two base runners to steal on seven attempts. Horn can hit and run, as well. He is 14 of 14 on stolen bases and packs a .488 batting average.
- Nominate: All-Arizona teams, Athletes of the Week, Academic All-Stars
- Larry Fitzgerald to headline azcentral.com Sports Awards show in April
- Congratulations to the Fan Experience basketball contest winner
Best overall hitter
Jacob Gonzalez, Scottsdale Chaparral, 3B, Sr.
This TCU signee and son of former Diamondbacks All-Star Luis Gonzalez is hitting .558 with a .629 on-base percentage. He has 29 hits, 21 runs scored and 30 RBIs. He also has four home runs.
Former Mesa High and Arizona State standout Mikel Moreno has done a tremendous job with this 15-1 5A team. Its only loss came last week to Scottsdale Chaparral, but even in that 9-7 setback, the Bulldogs showed fight coming back twice from large deficits to make it a game. Last year, Queen Creek went 14-15 in Moreno’s first year. This team is hitting .379 with 81 stolen bases, a 2.61 ERA and a .957 fielding percentage. Haiden Hendricks (.477, 17 RBIs), Colton Cassenlli (.467, 17 RBIs) and Toren Craig (.420, 20 RBIs) lead the offense. Hendricks is 5-0 on the mound.
Best coaching effort
Roy Muller, Phoenix Pinnacle
This is a close one. Eric Kibler gets strong consideration for what he’s done at Phoenix Horizon. But Muller is doing it after close to 60 orthopedic procedures in his life, limping around on a fungo for a cane and still possessing the boyish enthusiasm that has the Pioneers playing their hearts out for him and having fun. Pinnacle is as a well-rounded as any team in the state, showing off good gloves, big bats and solid pitching to get to 14-2.
Suggest human interest stories to Richard Obert at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-316-8827. Follow him at azc_obert