It was a long fall and winter for the Desert Oasis baseball team. After winning the school’s first state championship last year, the Diamondbacks have been itching to get this season started.
That’s how junior Jacob Walsh described the team’s mood Wednesday, a day before the season begins throughout the valley.
“I think our biggest mood right now is that last year’s in the past,” senior Colton Zobrist added. “We’re just trying to prove something because everyone knows who we are. Everyone is coming after us.”
The Diamondbacks will take on challengers without many of the players who led them to the Class 4A title. Nine seniors graduated from last year’s squad, and seven are playing either professionally or high-level college baseball.
But coach Paul Buboltz isn’t sitting around missing those who have departed.
“Some of these guys didn’t get an opportunity last year because we were so senior-loaded,” Buboltz said. “It’s getting them to realize it’s their time. These guys are ready to step up and be the new Desert Oasis team.”
Buboltz still has cornerstones in Walsh at first base, Zobrist at third base and Colby Smith at shortstop. But Desert Oasis lost almost all of its pitching staff.
Walsh was 5-1 with a 1.71 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 32⅔ innings last season, but he’s the only returner with varsity pitching experience. He also hit .403 with five home runs and 36 RBIs and was named first-team all-state as a utility player.
The Diamondbacks will rely on a strong junior pitching class in Reed Schaefer, Jacob Kieffer and Cole Roberts, while Walsh, Jacob Baca and Zobrist probably will serve as relievers.
The biggest difference Buboltz sees is the personality of this year’s team. It’s more mild-mannered than last year’s fiery, outspoken group, and he hopes to find some vocal leaders.
“I want to see them have some intensity and play good baseball, and I think we’ll just keep getting better,” Buboltz said. “I think it’s pretty wide open this year. It’s whoever gets hot at the end of the year that’s going to win it.”
Teams to watch
■ Arbor View — The Aggies won two games in last year’s state tournament after claiming second place in the Mountain Region tournament.
■ Basic — The Wolves have holes to fill after last year’s state tournament run, but they have plenty of returning firepower.
■ Faith Lutheran — The Crusaders stumbled in the Mountain Region tournament, dropping two straight games after posting a 12-1 league regular-season record.
■ Liberty — The Patriots could have been a state tournament team last year. Both of their losses in the Desert Region tournament were by one run.
■ Palo Verde — The Panthers could have the most high-level talent of any team in the valley. They finished one spot out of the state tournament last year.
Players to watch
■ Josiah Cromwich, Palo Verde — The senior catcher was the Mountain Region Player of the Year after he hit .465 with 12 home runs and 43 RBIs.
■ Garrett Cutting, Arbor View — The junior infielder hit .495 with eight doubles, three triples, three home runs and 30 RBIs. He also had four wins.
■ Hunter Katschke, Basic — The junior outfielder hit .395 with nine doubles, three triples, four home runs and 38 RBIs. He also was 3-0.
■ Michael Rice, Faith Lutheran — The senior was the Mountain Region Pitcher of the Year with a 5-3 record and 1.66 ERA. He struck out 56 in 50⅔ innings.
■ Jacob Walsh, Desert Oasis — The junior hit .403 with nine doubles, two triples, five home runs and 36 RBIs. He also was 5-1 with a 1.71 ERA.