St. Mary’s Catholic has established itself as one of Arizona’s elite high school baseball programs and coming off a 21-13 season that ended in a loss in the state semifinals, expectations have increased for this up-and-coming program.
The team began practicing for the regular season this past week as they prepare for their regular season opener on Feb. 20 at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
“Last year’s team was tight-knit,” St. Mary’s Catholic head coach Joseph Ponce said. “Every game it was a different player or two that would contribute in different ways. If one player didn’t have his best game, other teammates would step up.”
He also said he still has high expectations for this year’s team and believes matching last year’s success is quite feasible.
“We have to gel as a team and we have to build on what we had last year and have the confidence coming into the season because we’re not going to surprise anybody,” Ponce, a third-year head coach of the program, said.
The biggest change from last season is that they will be without seven 2018 seniors. Despite some key players from last year’s team being gone, the program plans to move on smoothly.
One of the most important parts of building a strong program in any sport is having a strong offseason and weight lifting programs that keep them practicing so they are better prepared when the season comes around. Over the summer and fall, the team played in several tournaments and got to travel across the state of Arizona. Ponce emphasizes the importance of the weight room, and when last season’s deep playoff run ended he had his players in the weight room a few weeks later. Although the weight lifting program is not mandatory, the team had great attendance all summer, fall and winter.
This year’s team will lack experience, as many key players will be playing new positions and have little to no varsity experience. Returning varsity third baseman Antonio Flores and first baseman Adrian Bustillos didn’t see the field much last season, but will play key roles. Last year’s JV second baseman/shortstop Tony Hernandez, shortstop Christopher Quick and catcher/outfielder Damon Cacho will now be on varsity and will also have to step up into big roles.
Ponce emphasized that the AIA 4A Skyline Division is a tough baseball division and his team will have a tough schedule. He expects his players to be playing with a “chip on their shoulders” this season, as they have inspirations to play college baseball.
“We recognize that we are a very different team than last year and we don’t have the same expectations,” senior Carlos Jasso said when asked about the difference between this year and last year’s team.
Jasso, the team’s catcher, right fielder, first baseman and relief pitcher, is among players to watch this season and he is one of the team leaders. He added that it will be important that him and his team use their own strengths instead of trying to match what last year’s players had.
Senior center fielder/left fielder/relief pitcher Adam Baratta wants his squad playing well from start to finish of every game, which was a struggle at times last season. He believes that improving on that could be a major factor in helping lead them to their ultimate goal: a state championship. He wants his opponents to know that his team will be back and “hungry for more.”