weather icon Cloudy

Palo Verde, Coronado set sights on 5A baseball state title

When Dustin Romero became Palo Verde’s baseball coach after last season, he said the Panthers were clear on their goal to compete for a state championship after the first team meeting.

He cited the team’s talent on paper, highlighted by some Division I college prospects, for what inspired that belief.

Battling through injuries and a deep Class 5A Southern Region, Palo Verde emerged as the region champs and earned a spot in the state tournament.

“We wanted to compete for a state championship,” Romero said. “It’s a cliche because every other club in the city does the same thing, but ours was reality based on our talent and what the kids wanted. We’ve all wanted the same thing, and we’re all pushing in the same direction.”

The Panthers (25-10), the South’s No. 1 seed, face Bishop Manogue (21-14), the North’s No. 2 seed, in an opening-round game of the 5A state baseball tournament at 11 a.m. Thursday at Bishop Gorman.

Coronado (22-13), the South’s No. 2 seed, faces Northern champion Reno High (25-9) at 1:30 p.m.

Palo Verde defeated Coronado last week for the region title. Both teams are seeking their second baseball state titles. Palo Verde won it in 2018, and Coronado claimed the title in 2013.

“The team is prepared, and they’re excited for the opportunity,” Coronado coach Garrett Smith said. “It’s been awhile since (Coronado) has been in a state tournament, so they’re looking at it as a unique opportunity to go out there and have a chance to win it.”

‘Time to step up’

Palo Verde suffered a pair of injuries that would hurt most team’s chances to compete for a state title.

Catcher Brady Dallimore, a Texas Christian commit, suffered a season-ending injury last month, and shortstop Ethan Clauss, a Texas A&M commit, missed time with a wrist injury.

But the Panthers relied on their depth, with Connor Rosinski stepping in at catcher and Luke Herrera filling in for Clauss while he was out. They enter the state tournament on a 10-game winning streak.

“That could have completely derailed our season,” Romero said. “But one way or another, these kids have done a really good job of stepping up when it’s time to step up.”

Clauss, Rosinski, Oregon commit Tanner Johns and Drew Kaplan are all hitting .400 or better for Palo Verde and helped fill in the offensive void Dallimore (.565) left.

Coronado also battled through injuries earlier in the season. Smith said the Cougars have leaned on their experienced group to get through the ups and downs and start clicking ahead of the playoffs.

Seniors Evan Festa (.486), a center fielder and closer, and shortstop Louis Dion (.450) lead Coronado at the plate. Smith praised the team’s starting rotation, led by junior Dillon Victoravich (2.26 ERA).

“We really just hit our stride and started playing our best baseball,” Smith said. “We always felt like we had the guys to do it, especially with 14 seniors. It was just a matter of when they were going to turn it on, and they’ve certainly done that this last part of the season.”

Wide-open 5A

The title race opened up with the last two 5A baseball state champs, Bishop Gorman and Basic, missing the postseason.

Palo Verde and Coronado finished second in their respective Mountain and Desert leagues in the regular season. Romero said Palo Verde’s success in an early tournament showed his team its full potential.

“After winning the regional, I think our kids are a lot more confident because we’ve accomplished another goal,” Romero said. “… We’ve been checking boxes of what our goals were and accomplishing those. It gives everybody a little hope and confidence.”

Smith pointed to a sweep of Gorman and Arbor View near the end of the regular season as what triggered the Cougars’ postseason run.

“Those wins were huge, and that gave us a confidence boost towards the end of the season,” Smith said.

Reno and Bishop Manogue, whom Palo Verde defeated 12-3 in a tournament game in March, could snap a long drought for the Northern baseball teams. Reno’s title in 2004 was the last time a Northern team won the state title in the top classification.

“We know (Reno) has a couple of great pitchers, they’re fundamentally sound, and they’re not going to make a lot of mistakes,” Smith said. “It should be a good matchup, it’ll be our ace against theirs, and we’ll see how we fare.”

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on X.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.