APACHE JUNCTION — Apache Junction baseball had a good season last year, as the program finished with a 10-8 overall record in power-point games, but it fell short of its goal to win the Black Canyon region.

Apache Junction finished second in the region behind rival Combs.

This year the goal remains the same for the Prospectors — be competitive and fight for the region title.

"The main goal is to always win the region," AJ coach Alex Murphy said. "We have a winnable region, our out-of-region games are going to be tough, but right now we're just practicing. These are essentially practice games, we're trying to get better and trying to clean stuff up. But we're optimistic that we're going to clean it up and hopefully win the region."

Returning for Apache Junction this year is senior Trentin Smith, who led the team at the plate with a .458 batting average and .543 on-base percentage.

Three other seniors in Remy Wiltz, Sebastian Wells and Joshua Bradley Jr. all batted over .300 last year and combined for 46 RBIs.

The Prospectors graduated their ace from last year, Austin Sample. He carried the majority of the workload with 41 innings pitched and had 63 strikeouts with a 2.05 ERA.

But Murphy said with his returning players, pitching is the team's strength.

Right-handed pitcher Jake Washburn tossed 33 innings last year and had a 2.97 ERA with 19 strikeouts.

Junior Ben Bailon will likely see more time on the mound after throwing 13 innings last year with 18 strikeouts.

"We have some pitching depth," Murphy said. "We have a lot of seniors. We have one kid that's ineligible right now, but he's on his way back and that's going to help our pitching depth even more. The pitching, when we play those teams in our region, they're going to keep us in the game."

While Murphy called the early season tournament AJ is playing in "practice games," the Prospector bats have struggled, as they've been out scored 22-2 in two games against Mesa High and Poston Butte.

"We definitely have to get the bats going," he said. "In two games, we've scored two runs, and that's not going to get it done. We have to be more aggressive early in the count, we're taking too many first pitch strikes and we have to understand that high school strike zones are a little bit bigger than what we see on TV so it's not always going to be hitting the corners and right down the middle. The pitchers are going to get calls off the plate and we have to make the adjustments and be aggressive."

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Maria Vasquez is a reporter covering Eloy, Arizona City and sports. She can be reached at mvasquez@pinalcentral.com.

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