The Tucson High baseball team is a work in progress.
A season removed from coming within one win of the Division I state final and seeing 15 seniors graduate, longtime coach Oscar Romero has just eight players returning from that squad.
After losing 3-0 to Arvada (Colo.) Ralston Valley in Thursday’s semifinals of the Chris Moon Memorial Classic at Cherry Field, Romero acknowledged that his team’s biggest challenge this season will be overcoming it’s youth and inexperience.
“We’re still a work in progress,” Romero said. “We’re a young club, but this group has been successful at the lower levels.
“I have faith in them, we have the talent.”
Romero was happy to play Ralston Valley on Thursday morning because he knew the Mustangs would start heavily recruited right-hander Jordan Holloway.
Romero wanted his club to face Holloway, a hard-throwing MLB prospect, knowing it will prepare them for the state tournament.
“We needed to see good pitching in order to see where we’re at and kind of gauge ourselves and make adjustments,” Romero said. “We got guys like (Sahuaro ace) Alex Verdugo in our conference; we have to know how to handle those situations.”
Throughout the game, Romero kept an eye out for someone to step up, take charge and lead this young group.
Seniors Tyler Johnson and Ivan Estrella may have answered the call when they combined for 5⅓ scoreless innings in relief after the Mustangs scored three runs off starter Alexander Carrillo in the first inning.
The Badgers (7-4) had several chances to score runs, but left 12 men on base for their first loss in the last seven games.
Johnson, a middle infielder and pitcher, noted the team’s inexperience has affected its mindset at the plate, but with more at-bats, that can be fixed.
“Last year, with 15 seniors, they all knew what they were supposed to be doing,” Johnson said. “We have to focus on our pitch recognition and selection at the plate. Everything else will fall in place, we have the tools.”
While the Badgers’ bats are a one-dimensional pull-hitting lineup, Estrella believes the rotation will be able to keep them in close games.
“We’ll see a lot of close games because we don’t hit much,” said Estrella, a Pima baseball signee. “Our pitching will keep us in it.
Estrella, who struck out four batters in two innings, agreed with Romero and Johnson that the Badgers’ biggest weakness is their inexperience. But Estrella pointed out that the way he and his teammates play, you can’t tell they’re young. And that kind of competitiveness is their biggest strength.
“We compete and play hard every day,” Estrella said. “We don’t think anyone is better than us — we can compete with anybody.”