CASA GRANDE — Two Pinal County baseball teams were a cut above the rest all season, and those teams also produced the county’s top two players.
Poston Butte and Vista Grande each advanced to the final eight in the 4A state playoffs. The Broncos were led by ace pitcher and power hitter Colton Vercoe, and the Spartans fed off the energy of star shortstop Emilio Barreras.
Poston Butte defeated Vista Grande in the state quarterfinals before losing to Gilbert Mesquite in the semifinals.
For his dominant pitching and hitting, Vercoe is the PinalCentral Baseball Player of the Year.
Barreras, a gifted defensive player and hitter, was also the top pitcher for the Spartans. He is the runner-up for Player of the Year.
Vercoe was the workhorse of the pitching staff, throwing 58 innings while striking out 81. He posted a 7-3 record with a 1.93 ERA. The 6-foot-5 senior played first base when he wasn’t pitching and slugged .918 with 19 extra-base hits while leading the team in hits (37), RBIs (34) and OPS (1.460).
He’s headed to Mesa Community College, where he will be a pitcher.
The versatility, talent and leadership of Barreras were invaluable to Vista Grande. His range and strong throwing arm make him an ideal shortstop, and he displays an advanced approach at the plate, mixing patience with power. He had a slash line of .531/.629/.816 with eight doubles, three triples and 22 runs in 17 games. He also struck out 36 batters in 28 innings with a 3.50 ERA.
Barreras, who still has a senior season left, is verbally committed to Cal State Fullerton.
The rest of PinalCentral’s all-county first team includes Chris Walter of Florence at catcher and infielders Erubiel Ozuna of Vista Grande, Ethan Hatch of Poston Butte and Junior Lopez of Poston Butte.
Walter was named first team all-conference in 3A. The senior batted .407/.446/.677 with 11 of his team-high 24 hits going for extra bases.
Poston Butte lands two players on the first-team infield, as Lopez was a standout shortstop all four years and Hatch was perhaps the Broncos’ best clutch hitter. Lopez has tremendous defensive instincts and speed, and he stole 25 bases and scored 33 runs – both tied for the best in Class 4A – while hitting .484 with eight doubles and two home runs.
Hatch, who mostly played third base, hit .515 with 34 hits, 31 RBIs and two homers in 23 games. But Hatch was just as valuable on the mound, pitching 18 innings with a 35-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 0.78 ERA.
Ozuna played infield and outfield for the Spartans and was one of the most reliable hitters on the team. The senior was second on the team in batting (.491) and led the Spartans in hits (28) and runs (27).
The first-team outfield consists of Casa Grande Union’s Jalen Melecio, San Tan Foothills’ Brett Sutterby and Vista Grande’s Anthony Bolanos.
Melecio, a senior, helped lead the Cougars into the 5A state playoffs and was a first team all-region selection in the 5A Sonoran. He led CG Union in most statistical categories, including batting (.400), on-base percentage (.515), OPS (1.035) and runs (21).
Sutterby was a key varsity player ever since his freshman year with the Sabercats. He finished his senior season leading the team with a .595 on-base percentage, and also led the team in slugging (.612), OPS (1.207) and runs (24). His 23 walks led all of Class 3A. He also struck out 49 batters in 35 innings pitched.
Bolanos, another senior, was a leader and all-around contributor for the Spartans. He tied with Barreras for the team lead in extra-base hits with 11, led the team with 23 RBIs and was second with a 1.304 OPS.
At designated hitter, another Spartans player enters the mix in Cesar Portillo. He was primarily Vista Grande’s catcher, but he was an outstanding hitter as well. The senior hit .467 and had a .652 on-base percentage, good for second in all of 4A. He walked 11 times in 48 plate appearances and smacked five doubles.
In addition to Vercoe, the first-team pitchers are Octavio Flores of Poston Butte and Jordan Ragsdale of Casa Grande Union.
Flores formed a potent 1-2 punch in the Poston Butte starting rotation with Vercoe. In 30 innings, he punched out 51 batters and allowed just 16 hits to go along with a 6-0 record and a 0.70 ERA. He tied for 12th in 4A in strikeouts and was third in ERA.
Ragsdale, a senior, turned into the ace for the Cougars even though he didn’t start the season in the No. 1 spot. He pitched 30 2/3 innings, striking out 21 with a 2.74 ERA. He was a second team all-region selection in the 5A Sonoran.