Verdict is in: Casteel is the best team in 5A

May 14, 2024 by Jose Garcia, AZPreps365

Casteel is 2-for-2 in state title appearances in school history. (Jose Garcia/azpreps365)

Case closed.

Casteel was the best baseball team in the 5A Conference this season.

Sunrise Mountain had an opportunity to negate that. But that fizzled as soon as it committed four uncharacteristic errors in the first two innings of the championship game at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Casteel completed its year-long objective Tuesday, defending its crown with a 8-1 victory against a team that gave up the fewest runs in the 5A this season.

Corralling the 25-6 Colts was no easy task this year. They dressed 16 seniors, including eight returning starters and seven Division I-bound players.

Add to that a veteran coach, Matt Denny, who won his fourth title in his fifth state title appearance, and Casteel could make an argument that it was the best team in the state regardless of conference.

“No. 1,” said Denny when asked where he thinks his team ranks. “I believe it. I really do. Obviously there are great teams in Arizona. The talent is through the roof. I would love to compete against the best teams. I think we did that. We lost to one 6A team all year. We beat some power house teams. And I don’t want that to sound conceded. It’s just that I believe that.”

On the mound was a major reason why Casteel may have carried the best team in Arizona this season: Mason Russell.

The senior is the top left-handed pitcher in Arizona not named Cam Caminiti. Russell pitched a complete game, allowing seven hits to finish the year 7-0.

“We said it form the beginning, we are going to be a team that’s going to be hard to beat for sure,” Russell said. “I think having that confidence allowed us to be a better team overall. I know the guys behind me are super competitive. They just want to win.”

Sunrise Mountain’s aces, Bryce Madison and Tanner Milner (15-1 combined record before final), pitched Tuesday, but Casteel’s lineup still tallied 12 hits against five pitchers.

Sunrise Mountain (29-5-1) didn’t help its cause when Casteel’s first two batters of the game reached base on errors. The Colts scored twice in the first and second innings and added the final scoring touches in the third inning.

All that what left was putting a bow on the 5A season. The victory was extra special for Denny, whose son, Baylor, a freshman, was the designated hitter Tuesday.

Baylor and teammate Connor Russell, Mason’s brother, each went 2-for-3.

“These guys find a way to win,” Denny said. “They figure out a way. They have the tools on the mound. Offensively they are just savage competitors. I believe that. It’s about finishing what we started. It’s about this group leaving a legacy with two state championships and just grinding.”

Casteel coach Matt Denny celebrated Tuesday's 5A championship victory with his daughter, Harper, and sons, Decker and Baylor. (Jose Garcia/azpreps365)