As of now? Mesa Ridge.
With defending league champion Coronado in rebuilding and youthful rosters spread across most of the rest of the league, Mesa Ridge coach Cory Monroe said the expectations for his club are nothing short of a league title in 2014.
“We have four goals this year; big picture and smaller-picture stuff,” the second-year coach said Saturday afternoon. “At the beginning of the season we wanted to win the St. Mary’s Tournament, which we are two-thirds into right now … Then, we wanted to win the Sand Creek Tournament, the league title and then, eventually, get a state title.”
Mesa Ridge (5-2) starts 4A league play against Mitchell (0-4) on Tuesday, and moves onto games against Harrison (0-3) and Sierra (1-5-1) the following week.
The Grizzlies’ success will hinge on their experience. With spring break over, and the heart of the schedule ahead, Monroe said his team will rely on a deep roster, which returned all but two of its everyday players from a year ago. One of those returners is ace pitcher Jake Grotelueschen, who returns after going 3-2 with a 2.58 ERA last season.
So far this season? So good.
He has given up only one earned run in 10.1 innings pitched and is hitting .647 with eight RBIs and nine runs scored.
“We have quite a few guys that will lead us this year,” Monroe said. “Jake is our ace and has been pitching and hitting well for us. Desi (DesBouillons) and Ben Ryberg have also been big for us … We have a lot of guys that are so big for us, so we feel our experience is a big advantage coming into league play.”
It doesn’t mean the league is a foregone conclusion, however. Coronado, which went 10-0 in league a year ago, lost senior leaders Derek Spearman and David Feurbach – but still believes it has enough talent to make things interesting coming into league play, said first-year coach Ryan Sheets.
“We are rebuilding, and we are not rebuilding,” said Sheets, who has been around the program since 2003. “We have a lot of talent, and those guys just need to take the steps and get better. We are looking for the guys that can lead us going forward, and I think we have them.”
The Cougars are a surprising 1-6 early into 2014. But of those loses, two are by one run and four were in a “competitive” tournament in Phoenix, Ariz.
“We are confident despite the record,” Sheets said. “We know the talent we saw down (in Arizona) is better than we’ll see most of the time up here. We’ve done some good things, and we’re excited to move forward.”
Elsewhere, Woodland Park is 2-3 this year after losing senior pitchers Jeremy Gwinn and Evan Lays to graduation. And Widefield is a respectable 3-6 (3-2 in Colorado), thanks in part to the bats of Jake and Isaiah Volcic, who have combined for 14 RBIs.
“Yeah, Mesa Ridge is probably the favorite as of now,” Sheets said, “but there is a lot of baseball left.”
Brent W. New, The Gazette
Twitter: @brentwnew @gazettepreps