Baseball tourneys give high schools early-season test

High school baseball teams are working their way through some of the early-season tournaments, using them as barometers to test their readiness for the coming region competition.

Some of the better squads in the Phoenix area used the Scottsdale Quarterback Club Invitational in Gilbert to get a read on their games.

As expected, the 5A powers in Gilbert rose to the top, as Mesquite High School held off Gilbert High School in an 8-4 contest to determine the tourney winner.

But Mesquite had to get past the No. 2 team in 5A-II, Horizon High School of Scottsdale, to get out of pool play and into the finals.  The Wildcats also beat Desert Ridge HS (Mesa) and Desert Mountain HS (Scottsdale), but lost to the top-ranked team in 4A-I, Saguaro HS in Scottsdale.

Gilbert also suffered one loss, also to a Scottsdale school.  The Tigers were beaten by Chaparral HS, the No. 1 team in 5A-II, but had a major win over Mountain Pointe HS (Phoenix), the No. 2 team in 5A-II.

Mesquite, which carries on its roster the state’s home-run king from last year (22 homers), Kevin Cron, has been ranked No. 6 nationally by Baseball America.  The Wildcats have compiled 12 home runs as a team in just six games.

Chaparral is playing this year without its long-time coach, Jerry Dawson, who retired after last season, turning the reins over to his assistant, Sam Messina.

Gilbert High also beat Boulder Creek HS (Anthem) and Highland HS (Gilbert) in pool play.

The championship game proved to be worth the admission, with plenty of hitting for the fans.

Mesquite (5-1) jumped out to a 3-0 lead with the first diplay of power at the plate, as pinch-hitter Casey Howard parked a two-run homer.  But Gilbert (4-3) struck back in the bottom of the fifth when Drew Stankiewicz and Greg Esquibel hit back-to-back home runs.  Austin Masterson and Alex Merriman followed with singles to give the Tigers a 4-3 lead.

Stankiewicz, Gilbert’s senior shortstop, is coming off a .495 year in 2010 and has committed to play at Cal State Fullerton next year.

But Mesquite used the sixth and seventh innings to stage a rally of their own, as Nick Rosales tied the game in the sixth with a RBI double and the Wildcats went on to score another that inning, and then three more in the seventh, thanks to a two-run homer by Lane Doty, to seal the win.

Doty finished the championship game with a 3-for-4 performance that included a pair of RBIs.  Rosales, the Wildcats’ relief pitcher, went 2-for-4, including a double.

Not to take anything away from Mesquite’s performance, but Gilbert played a little short on manpower, as coach Matt Gutierrez elected to rest some of his starters for the final game.  The Tigers are also still without their mound ace, Stephen Tarpley, who is nursing a meniscus injury and isn’t expected back until after spring break.

Mesquite, too, is a pitcher short.  Garrett Jeffries is also on the disabled list and expected back after spring break.

There’s a lot of baseball yet to be played this season, and plenty of time for both teams to get healthy.

That’s why this tournament was a good test, but it’s too early to tell a lot about what the playoff picture will look like.

But you can expect both of these teams to be in the picture.