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Milnick, Mills filling roles well for Shamrocks
The Yuma Catholic baseball team is young, but that doesn't mean it isn't talented.
It regularly starts seven underclassmen, but that doesn't make them inexperienced.
The Shamrocks might not have a roster loaded with seniors, but they're still No. 2 in Arizona Interscholastic Association Division IV Power Points.
“A lot of people thought we'd be down this year — and rightfully so, because we lost so many players from last year's team,” Yuma Catholic coach Curt Foppe said.
Foppe calls this his youngest team that he's had so far, but that they're already well ahead of where he thought they would be.
“There's days where I realize that we're young. But then there's days that I sit and go, ‘Wow. What we just did and we have a whole field full of sophomores and freshmen.'”
The starters the Shamrocks (8-1) have back are having surging years compared with last season's numbers. Junior third baseman Zach Boehler is hitting .595 with a team-high 23 RBIs, sophomore outfielder Joey Miranda is hitting .513 with 20 RBIs and sophomore shortstop Jaime Montanez is hitting .486 with 17 RBIs and four triples.
“At times I look at (my assistant coach) and I think that we're way ahead of where I thought we might be,” Foppe said. “I knew we had a chance to be good and talented but I think we're getting to places quicker than I thought we'd get.”
The Shamrocks have had a weak schedule thus far — all eight of their wins have come from double-digits — but it was the only loss of the season that had Foppe optimistic. The youthful Shamrocks went toe-to-toe with defending Division III state champion River Valley on the road and lost 3-0.
“When we went up to River Valley and played, I used that as a good gauge because they're a very good ballclub,” Foppe said. “They're ranked No. 1 in the state and are the defending state champions for a reason.”
— Jesse Severson
As substitutes last season, Matt Milnick and Keone Mills watched from the dugout as the Yuma Catholic baseball team was blown out in the biggest game of the year.
They saw St. David rock the senior-heavy Shamrocks 14-4 in the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division IV State Championship.
“I just remember the heartbreak,” said Milnick, who was a junior pitcher for the 2012 Shamrocks. “When we lost, having our team lose, it was kind of a shock because we thought we were the better team but we didn't go out and prove it.”
But as the dust settled on the Shamrocks' magnificent playoff run, Milnick and Mills slowly began to realize something.
It was their turn now.
Milnick would take over for graduating ace Matt Koppinger as the Shamrocks' top pitcher, and Mills would replace graduating stud Wade McBride as the team's starting catcher.
“I don't remember a lot about (the game) except for the disappointment. Losing that bad, it sucked,” Mills said. “After the championship game, I knew it would be my time to shine and be the starting catcher.”
“It hit me a week or two in the summer when I realized I'd be the only guy that will have experience so I need to work my butt off,” Milnick said. Nearly all of the Shamrocks' key pieces from the 2012 team had graduated. “I feel like if we're playing a big game, I should be the guy that everyone counts on to go out and get the win and be able to pitch to where we get a chance to win.”
Milnick gets the chance since Shamrocks coach Curt Foppe said he's scheduled to start against No. 5 Scottsdale Prep at 3:45 p.m. Tuesday at Yuma Catholic. In the games he's thrown this year, Milnick's certainly looked like the Shamrocks' ace with a record of 4-1 in five starts, an ERA of 0.86 and 26 strikeouts.
“I think he wants to be (the ace),” Foppe said. “I think he's striving to be. I think right now, our guys are looking at him to be that.”
The only loss on the year for Milnick came in a 3-0 defeat against River Valley, which is No. 1 at Division III.
“I think we'll go as far as he takes us. He's really a senior leader,” Foppe said of Milnick, the only senior who starts for the Shamrocks. “When you get into the playoffs, everybody needs that one guy — that one guy who can go out and get you a win.”
While Milnick still saw some time on the mound as a junior — a 4-1 record and 2.75 ERA in eight appearances and three starts — Mills was stuck behind McBride and had only five at-bats on the year, albeit with four hits. Now a sophomore, Mills has taken the reins behind the plate and has a .444 batting average with eight RBIs and two doubles.
It has been a season that almost stopped before it even started.
Playing for the Yuma Beast traveling team in the summer, Mills partially tore two tendons in his shoulder that kept him on the shelf for three months — and he feared possibly even longer.
“I thought I wasn't going to play this year at all.”
But a week before the season, Mills finally got the practice and has been behind the dish ever since.
“Wade was a hitter but from a defensive standpoint, receiving the ball, Keone is a different catcher when it comes to that,” Foppe said. “He's much more polished a catcher at receiving the ball.”
Mills has been the latest in a stretch of quality catchers at Yuma Catholic. When he took over in 2006, Foppe had the benefit of having Adrian Gutierrez — who made it to Double-A in the Angels organization — then three years with McBride, who led the Shamrocks in batting average, runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs and RBIs last year.
According to Foppe, Mills has the chance to keep the tradition alive.
“You see he's talented and has a chance to keep the torch going of having really good catchers if he can stay healthy.”