Moreno grateful to be back in his element at Queen Creek

April 16, 2024 by Ben Stapley, AZPreps365

A year ago at this time the Queen Creek baseball team was gearing up for what became an epic postseason run. The Bulldogs fought their way to the 6A state championship game, where they lost 3-1 to Hamilton. 
For coach Mikel Moreno, who was hired in 2015, Queen Creek's championship run was bittersweet; ecstatic for his players and coaches, but also on the other side of the country in West Point, New York at the U.S. Military Academy.

Taking one for team...and country

Moreno has been in the Army reserves for over a decade. His service includes two tours in Afghanistan and one in Kosovo. The most recent overseas call of duty caused him to miss the 2019 season while in Afghanistan. 
The circumstances leading to last years' absence and service West Point were a little different.

Moreno had self-imposed a one-year suspension on himself for the 2023 season. After the 2022 playoffs, Queen Creek was put on probation for a pitching violation during the playoffs. A pitcher was used in a postseason win over Hamilton that had exceeded his maximum pitch count from the previous game, thus by rule making him ineligible for the Hamilton game two days later. 
It was a messy situation that ended Queen Creek's season due to the forfeit. Queen Creek was also placed in probation, which would've kept the Bulldogs ineligible for the 2023 state tournament  

That's when Moreno decided to take the self-imposed suspension, which lifted the probation from Queen Creek. That move made the Bulldogs eligible for 2023 state tournament, which they made the most of. Moreno spent the better part of the year at West Point, where he followed his team long distance.

"It was really awesome, and it was tough," Moreno explained of following Queen Creek's state championship run.

"The time difference made it difficult to follow any of the playoff games live, so I'd follow on gamechanger app when I could, but most of the time I'd wake up early to check the scores."

Former Chandler coach David Lopez led Queen Creek last season in an interim role. Needless to say, Moreno was anxious to return home and resume duties for the 2023-'24 school year and '24 baseball season, which is turning into another successful campaign.

Bulldog Power

After commencing the season in a tournament in Dallas, TX and struggling to a 2-5 start, Queen Creek has won 15 of its last 17 games. Last Saturday's 7-5 win over No. 3 Brophy helped propel the Bulldogs to the No. 1 spot in the 6A power rankings.

"Coach Moreno is amazing," said junior Alex Gamboa, who drove in five runs during Saturday's win. "He pushes us every day to be the best we can be, and he is always making sure we play the game the right way."

Gamboa is among a handful of underclassmen who helped the Bulldogs to within two runs of a state title last season. Sophomore Tait Reynolds' performance as a freshman earned him a scholarship offer from Arizona State, where Moreno starred on the baseball field after a stellar career at Mesa High in football and baseball from 1991-'94.

Rankings and talents aside, Moreno's approach to the game never changes.

"At the end of the day, we get into coaching for the kids," Moreno said.

"There's so many great teams in Arizona and alot of talent everywhere. We can only control our effort and our improvement in everything we do on the field and off. Coming into this season, I was just hoping we could be competitive and represent our school and community in the best way possible."

Queen Creek will get another shot at Highland Tueday in a Central region rematch. The Hawks are one of only three Arizona teams to beat Queen Creek this season, and 8-6-win last Thursday. For the season, Queen Creek's resume includes wins over No. 2 Liberty, No. 4 Mountain Ridge and back-to-back victories over fifth ranked Desert Vista.


Fab Freshman

Molly Frazier is one of many freshmen contributing to Xavier's softball success in 2024. Ben Stapley/azpreps365

With one week left in the regular season, Xavier (20-3-1) has already exceeded last year's win total by eight victories. Seniors like Lauren Putz, Sofia Liesinksi and Tabitha Von Kolen have anchored the lineup. Putz has put herself in the Player of the Year conversation with a state-best 22 home runs and a .661 batting average. 

But a big reason for Xavier's turnaround this season has been the performance of its freshmen class. The Gators have gotten signifigant contributions this season from seven different freshmen, four of which are batting .300 or higher.

"We've gotten a lot from our freshmen all over the field this season," coach Bradely Downes said last week after a dramatic win over top-ranked Basha.

"Most of our starting infield are freshmen, but it's nice to have a combination of you and experience on the field."

Xavier's pitching rotation is led by freshman Angie Falls, who's gone 14-1 this season with a 2.14 ERA. She's also one of the Gators best hitters, with a .538 clip to go with five home runs and 42 RBI's.

Falls was slated for last Thursday's start against Basha, but illness kept her out of the lineup that day. After falling 6-0 in the top of the first inning, another freshman pitcher came to the rescue. Molly Frazier kept the defending state champs under control, holding them to one run the rest of the game. Frazier also hit a home run and drove in another run to aid the 8-7 victory.

Xavier will visit Basha today in a Premier Region rematch.