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Unfinished business for Kofa Kings baseball
Last season: 11-7
Keep an eye on: Matthew Valdez, senior, pitcher/shortstop (.324 batting average, 19 runs, 4-0 pitching record, 2.98 ERA, two complete games); Manny Camacho, senior, pitcher/first baseman (.304 batting average, 17 runs, 17 RBIs, 10 doubles, 5-2 pitching record, 2.04 ERA, three complete games); Miguel Rosas, senior, center fielder (.351 batting average, 17 runs, six doubles); Martin Gomez, junior, catcher (.362 batting average, six doubles); Alexis Ortega, senior, third baseman (.233 batting average, 16 RBIs)
First game: at Brophy, 3:45 p.m. Thursday
The Kofa baseball team was less than one power point away from making the playoffs a year ago.
The Kings finished 11-7 with 73.0322 Arizona Interscholastic Association Power Points to settle the year at No. 26. Corona del Sol, meanwhile, finished 10-8 with 73.8081 Power Points — which meant they went to the AIA Division I State Tournament as the No. 24 seed while the Kings were left in Yuma.
Talk about motivation for the offseason.
“Absolutely. It gives us a measuring stick of where we need to be when we're that close,” Kofa coach Richy Leon said. “As a coaching staff you start counting games. But hopefully they know what they need to do as a team, especially the guys who are returning.”
Back for the Kings this year are four players who hit better than .300 — seniors Matthew Valdez (.324 batting average, 19 runs, 9 RBIs), Miguel Rosas (.351/17/8) and Manny Camacho (.304/17/17) and junior catcher Martin Gomez (.362/7/9). Leon also expects big things from senior third baseman Alexis Ortega, who only hit .233 but was second on the team with 16 RBIs.
“We're pretty solid and the guys are a year older and a year stronger,” Leon said. “They were decent hitters last year so hopefully they can translate into driving the ball into the gap a little more.”
Not only are they a year older, but being so close to the playoffs last year may have left a slight chip on the Kings' shoulder.
“We have unfinished business we have to take care of. We need to get to the state tournament,” Valdez said. “It makes us want to work that much harder to get to our main goal.”
“It's a heartbreaker knowing you narrowly missed the playoffs, so now we're going to try harder to make the playoffs,” Camacho said.
Considering the Kings were 4-1 in one-run games, Leon said it was more stretches of games that Kofa didn't show up for instead of not catching breaks that cost them a chance at the postseason.
“If I recall, looking back, we had a hard time putting seven innings together. Maybe we didn't show up in the first few innings of the ball game,” Leon said. “We started preaching to the guys that runs scored in the first inning count in the very end.”
“To me, there were two games that we lost that were key,” said Rosas, who plays center field for the Kings. “One of them was against Mohave and one against Yuma. We should have beat them.”
The Kings lost 8-6 to Mohave, which finished 8-10, and fell 5-4 to rival Yuma High, which ended the year 6-12.
One bright spot for the Kings' quest for their first state playoff berth since 2009 is they return their top two pitchers from a year ago.
Valdez is a hard-throwing right-hander with a fastball in the mid-to-high 80s that went 4-0 in seven starts with a 2.98 ERA and two complete games. In a constrast of styles, Camacho is a left-handed knuckleballer who went 5-2 in seven starts with a 2.04 ERA and three complete games.
“We can't pinpoint who's our No. 1 but they're so different,” Leon said. “Matthew can come in a blow some guys away — he's got a pretty decent fastball, slider — and Camacho does the same thing totally different.”
Most likely, Kofa was one win away from making the state playoffs a year ago. With plenty of talent returning all over the area, Leon and the Kings know they'll have their work cut out for them if they want another shot at the big tournament in 2013.
However, Leon hopes his team is a year older this season — and a year hungrier.
“I really liked our club last year but it seemed like we were a little inexperienced, just waiting around,” he said. “Hopefully we're a little more aggressive this year and take it from the beginning.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson.