Panthers never doubted themselves

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Superior Sun

This season’s baseball team started 1 – 3 after an 11 – 0 loss to Combs in the Joe S. Padilla pre-season tournament. With eight freshmen and only one senior on the team, the Panthers have turned around their season by going 6 – 2 since and becoming the 14th ranked team in Division IV. According to Coach Ortega and the players, it was only a matter of time.

“They’ll get more comfortable,” Ortega told the Superior Sun after the 11 – 0 loss to Combs. “They’ll be ready (when the regular season starts).”

Freshman Nicholas Cruz spoke prophetically earlier in the season, as well.

“We just need to adapt quick,” he said at the time. “People are expecting a lot from us and I think we can pull it out.”

Have they ever, so far.

The Panthers won their biggest game of the season to date, a 6 – 5 decision over eight-ranked Ray on Apr. 8.

“Ray is a tough team and we knew that going into the game,” Ortega said after the game. “It made the kids excited to play and get a win. They showed that they can play and now we have confidence.”

Cruz, again, was hot at the plate against the Bearcats, going 3-for-4 and scoring three runs. Eric Oatis, a junior, was 2-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored. Matthew Zavala added had two RBI as well.

“We never gave up and kept fighting throughout the whole game,” Ortega said. “We knew we had to hit the ball in order to win and we did do just enough of that to pull it out.”

Rickey Longoria came on in relief and shutdown the Bearcats, holding them scoreless, and giving his team a chance for the victory. Longoria pitched 3-2/3 innings, allowing no runs on two hits. He struck out four.

The Panthers have a tough schedule down the stretch with three of their remaining six games against ranked teams. They’ll face fourth-ranked San Manuel twice before a rematch with the eighth-ranked Bearcats. The experience of the last eight games has their coach optimistic as the playoffs approach.

“I’m not surprised that my younger guys have stayed composed,” Ortega answered when asked about the recent play of his freshmen. “We’ve been in some tough loses this year so they have grown up and learned to stay calm and relaxed.”

Upcoming schedule: Apr. 16 vs. San Manuel, Apr. 18 @ San Manuel, and Apr. 23 vs. Pima. Both games versus San Manuel begin at 2 p.m. The game versus Pima is scheduled for 4 p.m.

Andy Luberda (919 Posts)

Andrew Luberda began writing for Copper Area News Publishers (CANP) in February 2013 after working 15 years in Healthcare Financial Management. Andy covers sports for 11 high schools. His stories are published in Copper Basin News, San Manuel Miner and Superior Sun, in addition to the San Tan Valley Daily PRSS and CopperArea websites. Additionally, he has written human interest stories and business profiles. In May 2012, he earned an AAS in Sports Management at Central Arizona College before graduating with a BS in Communication from Arizona State University in 2014. He and his wife, Kelli, have three sons – AJ, Kyle, and Kade.


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