Apache Junction baseball winning started in junior high

Apache Junction baseball players, back row, Cody Uhl, Prescott Horn, Ian McInytire and Justin Anderson and front row, Jacob Endsley, Nick Mohn and Chris Becker gather around the Division IV state championship sign in the outfield at the high school. (Arianna Grainey/Independent Newspapers)

Carlos Acosta, a former coach of Cactus Canyon Junior High School, told his eighth-grade boys team that if they stuck together though high school they’d have a shot at the state championship. Several of the boys did stick together and last year won the state championship and are now looking for a repeat.

“I knew when I took the job I knew those kids were going to be good and I knew we had a chance,” Acosta said.

Larry Laprise, former principal of CCJHS, asked what Acosta could bring as a coach. Acosta said his response was, “with this team I think we’ll have the championship for sure.”

Acosta, who at the time was also the high school coach, asked those who were trying out for the team, if they were planning on going to Apache Junction High School.  He said he wanted a team that would stick together.

Those who did continue on to play baseball in high school were Prescott Horn, Ian McIntyre, Justin Anderson, Cody Uhl, Matthew Turner, Nick Mohn, Jacob Endsley and Chris Becker.

“The special thing about those kids is that there were no individuals,” Acosta said. “That group of kids all knew their role and what they needed to do to make the team good.”

Above: The Cactus Canyon boys baseball team won the championship in 2012 and then won the high school championship in 2016. Below: The 2012 boys team signed a baseball after their win. (Special to the Independent/AJUSD)

Apache Junction had gone through a losing streak but Acosta said the team pushed to win.

“Their mentality was different, they didn’t want to lose, their heart was different.” Acosta said. “The expectation to lose was never there. They never thought we’re AJ we should lose.”

The mentality was “We’re AJ but we’re a baseball team and we know how to win.” Acosta said.

Prescott, senior catcher, said eighth-grade taught the team how to win but when they got to the first two years of high school that didn’t carry over.

Ian, echoed his teammate’s feeling on their freshman and sophomore years.

“AJ had a losing mentality as a high school program and our year the eighth graders came up and the first two years we still couldn’t get over the hump,” he said. “Junior year we were able to break through that and take it all the way.”

Acosta said when he saw that shift in eighth-grade, he told the team their junior and senior year, they would either win state or be at state.

“Knowing their heart alone, I knew they could do it (winning state),” Acosta said.  “Now they have so much fight in them.”

“Those kids bought into each other and decided to stick together,” Acosta said. “We lost one kid that his parents moved out of state for work, but we kept every other kid that was on that team.”

Acosta said while sitting on the sidelines for the championship last year he was taken back to the Cactus Canyon games.

“It was almost like a flashback, at the high school level, seeing how they work together,” Acosta said. “they said it’s our year, it’s our time.”

The team was in Division II in 2015, and was moved to Division IV by the AIA during a restructuring program that took more into account that just a school’s enrollment numbers. The formula included free lunch numbers and previous ranking history.

The team ended it’s year at 26-6, including the championship game against Joy Christian, winning 9-6 in eight innings.

“It was a big deal last year since we haven’t done it in 20 or 30 years,” Head Coach Ramon Figueroa said. “The sports at AJ have been down lately and then when we were able to pick up that big one, it was pretty special for us and the community.”

Figueroa said that he has seen a shift in the community.

“Everybody’s asking how were doing, a lot more questions about us, than when I first started,” Figueroa said.

This year, the team is trying for state again but Nick, the team’s second pitcher is out with injury.

Prescott, said that the teams greatest concern for a repeat is the depth of the pitching.

“Repeating is always harder because everyone sees you and you kind of have a target on you,” he said. “But at the same time, you have been there you know what it feels like.” Ian said.

“They work hard, their knowledge of the game has gone way above what it was when I started. Their athletes, they want to be out here and they know how to play the game,” Figueroa said. “I’m not saying were going to take it all again, it’s a little bit tougher this year, but we’ll make a good showing.”

“Those kids believed in their town, in their city, they believed in the name they had across their chest. It didn’t matter they weren’t a big school or a big name,” Acosta said. “They know what’s behind their jersey and that their heart. They won it in a fashion that was a team effort. With that group it made sense that was all they’d ever done was be a team.”

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