Valley Christian didn’t allow losses to spoil its championship season

May 13, 2024 by Jose Garcia, AZPreps365

3A 2024 baseball champ Valley Christian (Jose Garcia/azpreps365)

Sometimes losses are good for the soul.

The Valley Christian Trojans pointed to three of them in the past year that pushed them to accomplish what they did Monday at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Last year, they lost the 3A title game, and this year, the Trojans faltered against Yuma Catholic in the regular season and Gilbert Christian in the playoffs.

But those disappointing moments were the catalysts for what unfolded this season, which culminated with a 11-1 five inning rout of Yuma Catholic in the 3A state baseball championship game.

“That felt amazing,” Carson Grier said. “Knowing that we were going to win on that hit, there is no better feeling."

Grier's (2-for-3 3 RBI’s) hit to the right-center gap plated the run that ended the 3A title game early, allowing Valley Christian to start celebrating its first title since 2011.

Grier was also a starter on his school's winter championship basketball team along with his brother, Kyle, a starter on the basketball and baseball teams as well.

Grier and his head coach, Vince LaGatta, pointed to the three defeats their 29-2 team suffered in the last year as turning points.

Valley Christian was the heavy favorite to defeat region rival Gilbert Christian in the semifinals but lost Game 2 of the three-game series. The Trojans scored 10 runs in Game 3 to advance to the final, though.

The hot bats followed.

“I thought when we lost to Gilbert Christian it was actually a good thing for us, because it kept us in live at bats on Saturday (for Game 3),” LaGatta said. “And that kind of competition led over to today, and I think we just had an edge.”

Seven of Valley Christian’s 11 hits in the game came against the 3A’s strikeout leader, Mickey Fox, who was 9-2 with a 1.63 ERA.

The first two batters reached base in three of the first five innings for the Trojans. Catcher Caleb Danzeisen reached base four times and had three hits and three RBIs for the champion.

Like Valley Christian, Yuma Catholic (24-5) was making its third state title appearance. But the runner-up did so without any seniors on the roster.

The Shamrocks had seven hits to Valley Christian’s eight by the fourth inning, but Yuma Catholic stranded seven runners early in the game.

Valley Christian starter Cameron Bergloff held Yuma Catholic to just one run, a season low, and struck out a batter with the bases full to end the top of the second. 

The fourth inning is when Valley Christian broke away, scoring four runs, three of them with two outs to jump ahead 7-1.

After the award presentation, LaGatta, in his first year as the head coach, shared a heartfelt moment with last year’s Valley Christian coach, Damon Gilliland, who retired.

“He (Gilliland) believed in me when he retired,” LaGatta said. “I can’t thank him enough. I love the guy to death. I’m happy to bridge his five-year tenure into this group. A lot of what he built is represented here in our dugout, and we try to build off the foundation that he built for us.”

Valley Christian coach Vince LaGatta (right) and former Valley Christian coach Damon Gilliland hugged and shed a couple of tears after their program won the 3A title. (Jose Garcia/azpreps365)