Gaona in the Game

Gaona: Desert Christian continues to win as adversity mounts

2014-05-02T00:00:00Z 2014-05-02T13:00:11Z Gaona: Desert Christian continues to win as adversity mountsBy Daniel Gaona Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

With everything the Desert Christian baseball team has been through this spring, especially in the last five weeks, it would have been very easy for the team to quit.

What else are you supposed to do when things go from bad to worse? I usually curl up into a ball.

The Eagles have done the exact opposite.

Desert Christian (25-2) finished the season with 18 straight wins and, on Thursday, received the No. 1 seed for the Division IV state tournament. The Eagles would certainly like to repeat as state champions, but coach Grant Hopkins said that’s not what the team is focused on.

Not after all it has been through.

On April 2, assistant coach Ryan Hanson died unexpectedly at age 34. Then, 12 days ago, sophomore utility player Jonah Stiffey was badly injured in an ATV accident in Sonoita.

He needed to be airlifted to University Medical Center and was put on a ventilator. Stiffey is now at home continuing his recovery but will not play again this year.

On top of all that, the Eagles have been forced to deal with a slew of injuries and player changes, leaving them with just 11 players heading into the postseason.

Yet, Desert Christian has stayed dominant.

“The guys have come together and bonded a little more and really come out with a sense of purpose,” Hopkins said. “It’s not to win a state championship; the purpose they have is to step on the field, do it with honor and grace and come out with that fire to play hard every single time, because it’s almost like a dishonoring of Ryan if they don’t.

“They want to win it in Ryan’s honor, but if they don’t, they understand they’re not disappointing anybody.”

Ryan Hanson’s teachings remain in Desert Christian’s dugout especially with his father, Mike, still around as an assistant on the team. Former Canyon del Oro state championship coach Len Anderson joined the staff to help out after Hanson’s death.

Hopkins is hoping everyone can get healthier in the next seven days before the Eagles face either No. 16 Bagdad or No. 17 Pima. Hopkins’ son, Daulton, who is a captain and the only senior on the team, was out with a sprained left ankle until this week.

“I’ve never had a season like this, where we had to deal with so much off the field,” Daulton Hopkins said. “It’s been tough, but we’ve still been able to stay together as a team and gotten even closer.”

Juniors Andrew Edwards and Zach Malis have turned it on even more since Hanson’s death, and both said it would be even more emotional to win a state title this year compared to last.

Edwards, a left-handed pitcher, has walked just two batters and has given up two hits in his last 15 innings while striking out 35.

Meanwhile, Malis has nine wins as a pitcher and has driven in multiple runs in seven of the last eight games.

Malis heard from several people before the season started how hard it would be to repeat as state champions. They have been right so far, but the difficulties the Eagles have gone through this spring are far beyond what they imagined beforehand.

“It’s been a struggle, and for a little while a lot of us just wanted to break down, curl up in a ball and not want to do anything,” Edwards said. “What a lot of us focused on and took to heart was that Coach Hanson wouldn’t want us to do that.

“He would have wanted us to go out there and play our butts off.”

Mayfield joins Tucson staff

There were a couple familiar faces on the field when Tucson High’s football team opened up spring practice Monday. Todd Mayfield, a member of the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame, is now an assistant for the Badgers; so is Kenny Locklin, his longtime defensive coordinator at Palo Verde High School.

Mayfield spent 16 seasons as Tucson’s head coach before he coached at Palo Verde from 1998 to 2009. He led the Titans to a state title in 2005.

Mayfield came out of retirement last fall to lead the Titans to a 5-5 mark before deciding to leave again. He will be in charge of running backs and linebackers for coach Justin Argraves, who has led Tucson to three straight seven-win seasons.

Lancers LB Powell gets offer

Salpointe Catholic linebacker Taylor Powell was offered a scholarship by Fresno State this week.

It won’t be his last. Powell, a 6-foot-1-inch 220-pound junior, will be one of Southern Arizona’s top prospects in the fall. He has also drawn interest from Nevada, New Mexico State, San Diego State and UNLV, Salpointe coach Dennis Bene said.

Powell was a key to Salpointe’s stellar defense last fall, averaging 11.5 tackles per game. He had 21 tackles for loss, five sacks, five forced fumbles and two interceptions.

Cougars ace Snyder signs with Purdue

Sahuaro senior pitcher Gina Snyder, who has struck out 134 batters in 69 2/3 innings pitched this spring, signed a national letter of intent with Purdue earlier this week. She is 11-1 and had been verbally committed to the Boilermakers for some time.

Snyder and the sixth-seeded Cougars have a first-round bye in the Division II state tournament and will host either No. 11 Phoenix Greenway or No. 22 Yuma Gila Ridge in Tuesday’s second round.

Contact high school sports coordinator Daniel Gaona at 807-7761 or dgaona@azstarnet.com. On Twitter @DanielGaona13

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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