Jio Orozco thinks back to last baseball season and winces.
“It was not good at all,” said Orozco, Salpointe Catholic’s ace. “I was leaving pitches up in the strike zone and they hit a lot of home runs off me. Also, my velocity was kind of down — I don’t want to say down, but it wasn’t there like it is this year.”
Like Orozco’s velocity, just about everything else has been better for him this season.
The right-handed junior is 6-1 and has been holding opponents to a .190 batting average, a year removed from a disappointing 3-6 campaign when had a 4.39 ERA. Orozco gave up 33 earned runs in 52-2/3 innings last season but has given up just nine in 31 innings this spring.
“He had a lot success as a freshman on a big stage with a good ballclub and then, I don’t want to say he became complacent, but I think that he thought it would just come naturally,” Salpointe coach Danny Preble said.
“In a good way, last year was pretty humbling for him because there were some struggles. It was both-sided though — he still threw the ball well last year, but we didn’t score a whole lot of runs for him.”
Runs haven’t been an issue this season. Salpointe scored 19 runs in a five-inning, mercy-rule win over Catalina Foothills on Wednesday. It was the fourth straight victory for the Lancers (14-5), who are ranked No. 17 in Division II.
Although Orozco struck out nine batters in the victory to stay undefeated against local teams, he wasn’t too happy with his performance. He let himself fade a little in the third inning when he gave up his first home run of the season. Not that it mattered: The Lancers beat Catalina Foothills 19-4.
“When you give up four and win a big ballgame like that and leave the yard yearning for a little bit better, that’s a good thing,” Preble said.
Orozco and Preble have little trouble when asked to name the pitcher’s best performance of the season and one of the best in his three-year career. Orozco struck out a career-high 13 batters and gave up two hits in a 3-1 complete-game victory over Nogales in the championship game of the Spray Master Lancer Baseball Classic last month.
“I was pretty pumped that game,” Orozco said. “That was one of the better games I pitched. I really loved that game because I liked my results.”
The Lancers will have to rely even more on Orozco with nine games to go in the regular season. Salpointe lost five of its final seven games a year ago, and missed the state playoffs. The way Orozco has been pitching this year, the odds of another collapse are slim.
“We know when we take the field and he’s got the ball, we’re going to be in it,” Preble said. “He’s not going to go out and have the kind of day where he’s going to give up 10-plus runs. He shows up and pitches when it’s his turn.”
State champ Vega captures another wrestling title
Ironwood Ridge sophomore Danny Vega hasn’t missed a beat since going 43-0 on his way to winning the 106-pound championship at the Division I state meet two months ago. Last weekend, he became Tucson’s first Junior Folkstyle National champion with a pair of tech-fall wins and a major decision at the USA Wrestling Folkstyle Nationals in Cedar Hills, Iowa. Last July, Vega also won the 100-pound freestyle title at the Asics/Vaughan Junior & Cadet National Championships.
Rio Rico, Sierra Vista Buena name football coaches
With spring football just weeks away, Rio Rico and Sierra Vista Buena filled vacancies for a football coach.
Rio Rico, coming off its best season in school history, externally hired David Rastovski to fill the opening left by Kevin Kuhm, who took over the Nogales program.
Buena, meanwhile, tabbed assistants Brice Bernbeck and Frank Valdez as co-interim coaches. Former coach Ryan Scherling took the Colts to the playoffs twice before leaving; he is now Pima College’s offensive coordinator.
Community helps Titans replace stolen equipment
It was nice to see the outreach from several Southern Arizona teams and a local business after the Palo Verde softball team had its equipment stolen last weekend. Coach Mario Gastellum said Play It Again Sports donated new catcher’s gear, bats, helmets and gloves and teams including Canyon del Oro, Sahuaro, Empire and Pueblo loaned gear to the Titans.
Gastellum said the school’s administration was a big help in getting everything back in order and the team should have plenty of gear to finish out the season.
“It’s a good message to the athletes giving in a time of need whether it’s for softball or anything,” Gastellum said.