Shamrocks prepped for pressure of state semifinal
The current Yuma Catholic squad hadn’t gotten out of the first round of the baseball playoffs before this season.
But that doesn’t mean the Shamrocks are inexperienced.
As they prepare to play No. 5 Scottsdale Christian in a Class 2A State Baseball semifinal at 7 p.m. Friday at Peoria Sports Complex Field 3, the No. 8 Shamrocks have a been-there-before attitude, despite having not been there before.
Six of the Shamrocks also play football and are not far removed from a run to the state title game. And while football and baseball share few on-the-field similarities, the off-the-field attitude carries over.
“When we went to the state championship in football, none of us had been there before,” said center fielder Rocky Rutherford, who also played receiver on the football team. “It was a whole different kind of experience. You can’t be hyped up. You have to calm down and just relax and play your game. That’s what I think is going to help our baseball team.”
Brady Sorenson, who played on the line for the Shamrocks and plays first base and designated hitter for the Shamrocks, agreed with Rutherford.
“We should just act like we’ve been there before, like we’ve been there all the time,” Sorenson said.
Coach Curt Foppe said it doesn’t necessarily give his team an advantage over the other three squads left in the semifinals — all have excellent programs in other sports. No. 2 Northwest Christian, playing in the other semifinal against No. 3 Valley Christian, defeated Yuma Catholic in the 2A State Championship Football game.
“That has definitely helped us throughout the year,” said Foppe of the football players, a list that also includes Matt Koppinger, Alex Demyen, Ryan Gill and Julian Higuera. “It’s helped us settle down and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played and not worry about other teams. But the teams that are left, all their guys are multisport athletes too, and tend to be high in the playoffs. ... Our guys benefit from that character-wise.”
Before any possible football championship rematch, the Shamrocks (15-2) have to top the Eagles (15-5). They’ve already beaten Scottsdale Christian 13-6 at the Shamrock Shootout, plus won 8-4 in Scottsdale late last month in a power-points game. Koppinger, also a wide receiver on the football team, will get the start for the Shamrocks.
“He’s our horse. He’s our guy,” Foppe said. “There is no Saturday if we don’t win Friday, so there’s no decision, hard decision really, on who to throw in that game. He’s our guy we’ve rode all along, and hopefully we’ll ride him into a state championship game.”
Foppe said if the team wins Friday, he’ll pitch Bobby Lee in the championship game 7 p.m. Saturday at Peoria.
But first they’ll have to get past a motivated Scottsdale Christian team.
“You know the old cliche: It’s hard to beat a team three times in a year,” Foppe said. “They definitely want to come and beat us, and they are a very good ballclub. ... With that being said, I think our guys have confidence knowing we can beat them.”
It’ll be a slightly different role for the Shamrocks, who played the first weekend of the season with a chip on their shoulders. Despite not losing to a 2A school all year, they earned the No. 8 seed. They beat Bourgade Catholic — the team that has bounced them in the last two season from the playoffs — in the first round before topping No. 1 Willcox in the semifinals.
“Having beat them twice we got the target on our back,” Foppe said. “Beating the No. 1 seed, whatever that means in this system, definitely puts a target on our back. But we have to go out being the hunter too, being aggressive. But that’s probably changed a little bit.”
Rutherford said he still expects the tam to be as motivated this weekend as it was last.
“When we came into Bourgade, that was a big game. That was a big time thing,” Rutherford said. “We lost to them two years in a row and it was a big thing to prove. Then we came out and beat Willcox, but we’re still carrying that chip on our shoulders of being the No. 8 seed. ... It’s kind of motivation to finish them off, get this thing done.”