Stepping into the batter’s box with Apache Junction enjoying a 15-0 lead in the fourth inning of a region game against El Mirage Dysart on April 12, Mikayla Gilgert confessed that she knew what sign third base coach Bill Wilson was going to give. In lopsided situations, Wilson likes the players to work on different areas of their game.
The AIA recently announced its all-state teams for the 2017-18 winter sports season, and three Apache Junction athletes were among the honorees. Evan Quiroz was named to the all-4A boys basketball second team, and Lady Prospectors Emily Rutkowski and Mattie McMinn were selected to the all-4A girls soccer second team.
Looking to bounce back from a disastrous three-loss week, Apache Junction’s offense came to life on April 10 against visiting El Mirage Dysart. With the game tied at 3-3, the Prospectors loaded the bases with no one out in the sixth. After Trentin Smith drew an RBI walk to give AJ the lead, Sebastian Wells broke the game open with a two-run double.
Left-handed slap hitting is nothing new to fastpitch softball. Elexis Toro is quickly making the approach a specialty of her own.
Toro, Apache Junction’s sophomore second baseman-pitcher, uses slap-hitting to provide the spark at the top of the Lady Prospectors’ batting order. She’s hitting .620, with an on-base percentage of .671, scored 39 runs and leads the Lady Prospectors with 16 stolen bases (in 20 attempts).
Imagine Prep-Superstition’s final home softball game of the season on April 11 at Prospector Park was also Senior Night for Lady Panthers’ first baseman Nayomi Enriquez – the team’s lone senior. Following a disappointing 9-5 loss to Phoenix Paradise Valley Christian, Enriquez was honored by her teammates with a combination of gifts and expressions of gratitude for her leadership.
Bella Ortiz has emerged as Imagine Prep-Superstition’s hitting star in the Lady Panthers’ first season of softball, hitting .586 with five home runs with 14 runs batted in. Ortiz isn’t sure what her secret is, only that she’s enjoying her success at the plate. “I’m not really sure,” Ortiz said. “I think I need more practice with the fielding and my pop flies, but in batting, I’ve found my spot.
The odds of defeating an opponent by the same lopsided score twice in the same week are likely high, but that’s what Apache Junction’s baseball squad accomplished against Phoenix Cortez. The Prospectors defeated Cortez 26-0 at home on March 27, and repeated that performance against the Colts two days later.
What started out as an opportunity to pursue a basketball dream, is winding up as mother-daughter bonding adventure in the Land Down Under. Apache Junction High School sophomore Kylee Vanwormer received an invitation to play in the 2018 Down Under Hoops Classic, held in mid-July in Australia. She’ll be going, along with her mother, Robyn Pulliam.
It’s not always textbook softball for the fledgling Imagine Prep-Superstition program, but the Lady Panthers are 4-3 in their first five games. “It gives us more confidence for our next games,” Lady Panthers pitcher Jayla Noble said. IPS saw its three-game winning streak snapped on March 28 when they were defeated 15-8 by Phoenix Paradise Valley Christian Academy.
Runs were tough to come by for both Chandler Seton Catholic and Apache Junction on March 22 at the AJHS diamond. In the end, the Lady Prospectors came up with a 4-1 4A non-region softball win. AJ pitcher Mikayla Gilgert didn’t feel she was totally on her game, though she struck out 11 and scattered three hits in seven innings.
After starting the week with a disappointing loss, Apache Junction bounced back with a pair of 4A Black Canyon Region baseball victories over Scottsdale Coronado. On March 20, the Prospectors earned a 9-7 win at Coronado. Two days later, AJHS blanked the Dons 10-0 in five innings. Senior left-hander Nathan Rhodes threw a no-hitter against Coronado, facing 22 hitters.
Early in Imagine Prep-Superstition’s March 21 softball game against Imagine Prep-Coolidge, the warmer spring temperatures weren’t helping Lady Panthers pitcher Jayla Noble. The junior right-hander found she needed a break, and, after getting hydrated and spending a few outs in left field, she returned to the Prospector Park mound to pick up where she left off.
JT Broady, Imagine Prep-Superstition assistant coach and father of the Panthers’ Tavares Broady, told a story about an early glimpse of his son’s work ethic. “He was probably about 6 years old,” JT recalled. “We were in our apartment complex and one day we lost track of him. We went out to the park, he wasn’t there. Then somebody said, ‘Check out over at the basketball courts.’
Esther Robinson is one of five eighth graders on the inaugural Imagine Prep-Superstition softball roster. Being out there with the big girls doesn’t faze her a bit. “Sometimes it’s kind of scary, but I think it’s awesome that an eighth-grader can get out here and play,” Robinson said. To say the Lady Panthers have a young roster is an understatement.
Just two days after coming up with its first-ever softball victory, Imagine Prep-Superstition tried to make it two consecutive wins, but came up short against American Leadership Academy-Ironwood, losing 15-9 in five innings at Prospector Park. The upstart Lady Panthers (1-2) defeated Phoenix South Ridge 19-1 on March 5, and jumped to a 5-2 first inning lead against ALA-Ironwood.
When Apache Junction defeated Tempe Marcos de Niza on March 1, it marked a coaching milestone for Ed Matlosz. The victory, the Lady Prospectors’ fourth of the season, was No. 200 for Matlosz as AJHS coach. “This all goes back to 2006 when we won 22 games. They all add up after a while."
Apache Junction’s up-and-down baseball season took an explosive upswing on March 9, when the Prospectors traveled to Phoenix Metro Tech and emerged with a 27-4 4A non-region win. Earlier in the week, AJHS traveled to Goodyear on March 6 and edged Estrella Foothills 2-1 behind a one-hitter by Austin Sample.
Four Imagine Prep-Superstition wrestlers were placewinners in the CAA Varsity and Jr. High Wrestling Championships, held Feb. 10 at American Leadership Academy-Gilbert. Pictured, from left: Jacob DiGiacomo (third place, 106), Luis Valdivia (second, 152), Aaron Lira (first place, 113), Joseph Cruz (first place, 98 pounds, junior high).
Apache Junction sophomores Maya Richardson and Kylee Vanwormer were named to the all-4A Black Canyon Region girls basketball first team, as selected in a recent vote of the region’s coaches. In 15 games, Richardson scored 268 points (17.9), had 86 assists (5.7), 49 rebounds (3.3), and 41 steals. Maya made 58 percent of her total field goal attempts, hitting 104 of 179.
After opening the season with a steady diet of 5A-6A opponents in the Dobson/Westwood Tournament in Mesa, Apache Junction built a three-game winning streak over the last week with two victories over Tempe Marcos de Niza and a rout of Gilbert Higley. The Lady Prospectors completed play in the Dobson/Westwood tourney with a 15-3 win over Marcos de Niza on Feb. 24. AJ built an 11-3 lead after three innings.
Maricopa Wells broke a scoreless tie in the third quarter, then went on to defeat Cactus Canyon 20-6 on Feb. 28 in a Junior High Winter Football League semifinal at Davis Field. Wells surged ahead at 5:35 of the third quarter on a 51-yard scoring pass from Merhauti Xepera to D.J. Scott.
A highly-successful boys basketball season came to an end for Imagine Prep-Superstition on Feb. 22 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix, when the Panthers fell to Phoenix Skyline Prep 59-46 in the CAA Division III championship game. The No. 6-seed Panthers finished their first season under Coach Travis Gordon at 16-5 overall, 8-3 in region play. Skyline Prep completed its title season 23-2.
Based on his own self-evaluation, Evan Quiroz of Apache Junction wasn’t sure if he was player of the year material. Voters in the 4A Black Canyon Region felt otherwise. The senior guard was named as both region player of the year and repeated as offensive player of the year in a vote of the Black Canyon coaches. “It’s humbling,” Quiroz, who was the 2017 Black Canyon Region offensive player of the year, said.
Apache Junction anticipated tough competition in its softball season opening appearance at the Mesa Dobson/Westwood Invitational, and found themselves 1-4 through last Friday. The Lady Prospectors opened their 2018 season with a 6-5 win over Gilbert Williams Field, then lost four straight to Mesa Dobson (11-10), Queen Creek Casteel (14-4), Sierra Vista Buena (9-5) and Yuma Cibola (10-4).
Apache Junction baseball opened its 2018 season with a victory over Gilbert Higley on Feb. 21 at the Tomas Pinon/Matt Huffman Memorial Tournament, hosted by Casa Grande Union. The Prospectors put up seven runs in the first inning en route to downing the Knights 10-5. Trentin Smith and Nick Mohn each collected two hits and drove in two runs for AJ. Nathan Rhodes started on the mound and picked up the win.
Lost Dutchman Marathon held its 18th annual destination race on Feb. 18. Runners enjoyed the perfect weather, stunning views and wonderful volunteers throughout the course. The marathon is proud to share that numbers were up from last year, and they hosted runners from 47 states and Washington, D.C., as well as six Canadian provinces, France, The Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, and Surrey, Great Britain.
On Sunday, Feb. 11, Lost Dutchman State Park hosted a grand reopening of the mountain bike trail with an accompanying mountain biking skills clinic. In attendance was Deputy Director of AZ State Parks, Jim Keegan, the Superstition Mountain Bikers trail builders, and 25 plus riders.
Had Katy Cafaro, the 4A Black Canyon Region player of the year, stayed with dancing, her noteworthy soccer career might not have happened. “I started playing soccer when I was 7. But before that, I took dance lessons for a couple of years,” the Apache Junction sophomore recalled.
Tavares Broady scored 22 points – including four 3-pointers – and grabbed 16 rebounds on Friday, leading Imagine Prep-Superstition past Queen Creek Canyon State Academy 68-57 in the quarterfinal round of the CAA Division III boys basketball playoffs. The Panthers (15-4) faced Phoenix Maya (12-4) in the semifinals on Feb. 17 at South Mountain Community College after this edition of The News went to press.
Taylor Vargas of Apache Junction took third place at 138 pounds, and Gabe Marquez claimed fifth place at 170 at the AIA Division III State Wrestling Tournament, held Feb. 8-10 in Prescott Valley. Vargas and Marquez are seniors. Also wrestling at state was sophomores Kamryn Mudd (113) and Ethan Wright (195).
As the deadline approached for college football’s national letter of intent signing day on Feb. 7, Ethan Zimmerman still had a decision to make. At around 10:30 the night before, the Apache Junction 4A All-State defensive back chose Chadron State (Neb.) for his football future.
Brandon Cates, Angelo Johnson, and brothers Valentin and Joseph Ontiveros of Imagine Prep-Superstition aren’t letting a colder climate get in the way of pursuing their collective dream of playing college football. Cates is headed to Division III Hiram College in Ohio, while the other three signed on as a package deal to play for College of St. Scholastica, a D-III school in Duluth, Minn.
Imagine Prep-Superstition concluded its boys basketball regular season in winning fashion on Feb. 9, as the Panthers upended American Leadership Academy-Ironwood 83-47. The win gives IPS a 12-4 league record, trailing second place EVAC by a half-game in the CAA Division III, Region 1 standings. Canyon State Academy is in first place at 12-2.
No. 3-seed Estrella Foothills maintained its undefeated status on Jan. 30, taking advantage of Apache Junction miscues to defeat the No. 14 Lady Prospectors 4-1 in the opening round of the 4A girls soccer playoffs. “Playing a good team like this, they exploited a couple of mistakes we made in the first half,” AJ Coach Norm Hoefer said. “(Estrella Foothills) is a good team, and when you make a couple of little mistakes, they’re going to capitalize.”
As the only senior on this season’s edition of Apache Junction girls basketball, Valentina Valenzuela had the honor of seeing her name in giant letters above the bleachers along the west wall of the AJHS gym. “It was like reality hit, because I’m a senior,” Valenzuela said. Valenzuela, and her AJ teammates, wrapped up their season on a winning note on Jan. 31, as the Lady Prospectors held off San Tan Valley Combs 44-37.
Imagine Prep-Superstition’s boys basketball game plan came into focus quickly on Feb. 2 against IP-Surprise – get the ball to hot-shooting freshman Tavares Broady. “Reggie Johnson saw he had a mismatch and wanted to post up,” Panthers Coach Travis Gordon said. “I told him that if he didn’t get out of that post and get the ball to Var right now, you might not play again!”
Apache Junction, behind the offensive punch from its version of “the Splash Brothers,” put a positive wrap on its boys basketball season with a 65-57 Black Canyon Region victory over Combs on Feb. 1. Trevor Bayer led the Prospectors (9-18 overall, 5-5 region) with 20 points, followed by Evan Quiroz with 16 and Brigham Milkey with 15.
Though Apache Junction no longer had a chance of meeting its goal of winning its region, the Lady Prospectors upended visiting Phoenix Cortez 46-22 at the AJHS gym. After leading 20-15 at halftime, AJ outscored the Colts 14-4 in the third quarter. Transition layups by Kaylee Smith, Kylee Vanwormer and Valentina Valenzuela gave the Lady Prospectors a 44-19 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
TEAM TOTALS: Barry Goldwater 194, Mountain Pointe 158.5, Chaparral 142, Apache Junction 130, Casa Grande Union 114.5, Camelback 100, Dobson 97, Copper Canyon 94, Notre Dame Prep 78, Maricopa 77.5, Trevor Browne 77, North Canyon 69.5, Dysart 64, McClintock 46, Washington 36, Betty H. Fairfax 23.
Long-distance shooters Trevor Bayer and Evan Quiroz of Apache Junction are establishing a reputation of becoming 4A boys basketball’s version of The Splash Brothers. Quiroz is in a three-way tie for sixth place in the state for 3-pointers made with 61. Bayer is ninth with 59. In 4A, Quiroz and Bayer are 1-2 on the 3-point chart.
Taylor Vargas of Apache Junction was determined to make the most of his final wrestling match in his home gym. As the only AJ wrestler to reach the finals of the Prospector Open tournament on Jan. 13, Vargas fulfilled his goal by defeating Cody Foote of Red Mountain 10-4 for the 138-pound title. “It means so much, because last year I believe I should have got first, and only lost one,” Vargas said.
Freshman Tavares Broady enjoyed his second big game of the week on Jan. 19, sparking Imagine Prep-Superstition to a 49-42 CAA Division III boys basketball victory over visiting Heritage Academy-Laveen on Jan. 19. Tavares finished with 18 points, 16 rebounds, one steal and one assist, as the Panthers improved to 8-1 overall while winning their seventh consecutive game. “Tavares has found his groove,” Panthers Coach Travis Gordon said.
The court wasn’t the only place action could be found during Apache Junction’s girls basketball game against Scottsdale Coronado on Jan. 10. As the game wore on, the bleachers became more boisterous, and, in the perception of the referees, less than cordial. As a result, the Dons came from behind and won the 4A Black Canyon Region game 44-41 before what became a nearly empty AJHS gym.
Apache Junction forward Trevor Bayer wasn’t sure if he took any of his field goal attempts inside the 3-point arc in the Prospectors’ 61-47 Black Canyon Region boys basketball win over Phoenix Cortez. He’s not too concerned about it, though. It’s his job. “I’m a shooter, and I’m going to shoot!” the junior forward explained. Bayer poured in a game-high 21 points – on seven 3-pointers – against Cortez at the AJHS gym on Jan. 11.
While Imagine Prep-Superstition girls basketball goes through the growing pains that accompany a first-year varsity program, there are signs of encouragement. Like the Lady Panthers’ 22-16 victory on Jan. 9 over ASU Poly Prep. Two days later, IPS battled, but dropped a 29-21 decision to Heritage-Mesa. Miracle Drane was the Lady Panthers’ top scorer against ASU Poly Prep with 10 points.
AJHS Senior Raising Funds for Australia Trip
Claire Hoffman, a senior at Apache Junction High, wants to take her golf game to Australia this summer.
Hoffman, a three-time state qualifying golfer for the Prospectors, is seeking sponsors to participate with Arizona Golf in the 30th annual Down Under Sports Tournaments, scheduled for July 5-14 on the Gold Coast of Australia.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which is super awesome because I’ll be representing both Apache Junction High School and the community,” Hoffman said, adding that the trip includes two 18-hole practice rounds, an international tournament, and a tournament for players from the United States.
Hoffman needs to raise $4,700 by May 15. A major source of funds comes through voluntary contributions of family, friends and business sponsors.
Donations can be made online at DownUnderSports.com/payment/78CE-7364-8EAD, by check to Down Under Sports, P.O. Box 6010, North Logan, UT 84341, or by phone (435) 753-4732.
Nearly midway through the second half of Apache Junction’s girls soccer match against Phoenix Washington on Jan. 11, the Lady Prospectors’ Emily Rutkowski was tripped and awarded a penalty kick. As Emily prepared for the PK, the lights went out at Davis Field. After a nearly 35-minute delay, the lights were back. Emily’s long-awaited PK attempt sailed wide right.
While making his recent visit to Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa, Apache Junction wrestler Taylor Vargas learned quickly to dress for the Midwest autumn weather. “It was pretty cold when I went up there,” Vargas said. “I had to dress up all nice because I was going there to tour the campus, meet the coaches and everything. I wasn’t wearing a coat and it was pretty cold outside! I wasn’t really prepared for it.”
Imagine Prep-Superstition won an entertaining, see-saw CAA Division III, Region 1 boys basketball contest on Jan. 11, as the Panthers held off visiting Queen Creek Canyon State Academy 68-64. The Panthers improved to 6-1 on the season, handing the Rams their first defeat in seven games. “We’ve been trying to preach just the little stuff,” Panthers Coach Travis Gordon said.