April 22, 2010
If you are unfamiliar with Four Corners or New Mexican high school baseball, this post will probably be meaningless to you. However, if you are familiar with baseball in this area, then you know that this year is a very unique one for baseball in San Juan County. Both Farmington High School and Piedra Vista High School have new management for the first time in over a decade. Gurus Don Lorett and Dick Laughlin retired from their respective managerial positions after the 2009 season. That was the first season since PV opened ten years earlier that they finished higher in the state tournament than FHS, and they were able to do it while graduating just five seniors, only 3 of which started. Since PV opened, FHS has won 6 AAAA state titles including a 4-peat from 2005-2008. Along with Eldorado, and Carlsbad, FHS has been the school with the deepest tradition in the state, winning titles in every decade since the 1960’s. Thrice since PV opened have they fallen to FHS in the state championship. It is the deepest rivalry in the state and never before has it seemed as though FHS was the underdog.
The new managers at FHS and PV respectively are Sean Trotter, Lorett’s assistant of 13 years, and Mike McGaha, FHS’s hitting coach since 2004. When McGaha crossed town, he brought with him FHS’s strength and conditioning coach as well as the head JV coach, who handles PV’s stunning pitching staff. Adding to the suspense of the rivalry is the fact that many of the top players from both schools play for the same club organization with management that has represented both schools.
At the top of the PV rotation sits UNM-signee, Jake McCasland. McCasland boasts a fastball that has registered as high as 96 mph as well as three average off-speed pitches. Following McCasland is everyday SS, Tim Bailey, who sits in the 86-88 mph range and who can reach back for 89 mph when he needs it. Tim’s changeup and curveball can be above average, and he tends to get the ball on the ground well. Following Bailey is junior, Dominic Moreno, who works in the 84-86 range from a low ¾ slot. His fastball has excellent arm-side action, but his breaking stuff tends to be on one plane despite having above average tilt. His changeup is better and also has good arm-side fade and some sink. These three guys make up the deepest pitching staff either Farmington school has had since 2002, and the 4 and 5 are not bad either. Senior, Chandler Joe, leads Farmington’s staff. Joe works in the low to mid-80’s with an excellent changeup that plays his FB velocity up a tad. Following him is utility player and UNM-bound, Eli Freese, who works in the mid to high-80s from a very low ¾ slot. When Freese is in the strike zone, he dominates right-handed opponents because his fastball rides in very hard. His secondary stuff (slider, curve, change, and splitter) can be equally devastating, but have occasionally been tough for Freese to get in the zone.
With a knee injury to FHS SS, Chris Weaver, PV’s lineup from the top down is head and shoulders above Farmington’s with the exceptions of 3B, Joe Cervantes, and Freese. With a month left in the season, McCasland has already broken the school’s single-season HR record that was formerly held by Air Force-signee, Kyle Henke, in 2008. Not to take anything away from Jake, but there are at least three players in the PV lineup equally skilled at the plate. On paper, FHS is overmatched against PV in every way this season, but the same was true last year, and FHS was still able to wrap up their ninth consecutive District 1-4A title. The FHS tradition of excellence is tough to overcome.
Well, PV had a very easy time overcoming it this time around. In front of a couple thousand fans they put up 4 runs in the first, and McCasland proceeded to toss a 1-hitter to lock up round 1 with a score of 5-0. The war continues Tuesday with Freese on the mound against Bailey, and this should prove to be the more competitive of the two regular season bouts.
I think the community of Farmington is already anxiously awaiting the state seedings in hopes that PV and FHS will not meet until the title game. The rivalry between the two schools has changed a lot over the last year. The rivalry in the past has resulted in violence, vandalism, and a deep hatred for the opposing school that caused a sizeable rift in the framework of baseball in town. With the new management a noticeable and long overdue burying of the proverbial hatchet seems to be taking place, and the community is benefiting from it. Both coaches have been, at least superficially, very complimentary of the other school’s program and players in a number of interviews. While the rivalry still exists and in many ways has never been stronger, in this particular season, it really does seem to be all about what happens between the lines. It makes me proud to have once been a part of the same rivalry.
I am equally proud to be a Grinnell Pioneer today. GC swept Illinois College at IC and has jumped out to 6 and 0 record in Midwest Conference play. The Pioneers currently find themselves on the inside track to earning the host rights to the conference tourney in a month. GO PIONEERS!
Mike Nodzenski, GC’s catcher, currently boasts slashes of .456/.518/.912. Let’s just give this guy the MWC POY award now. All-America anyone? I say so.