SAN TAN VALLEY — The Combs baseball program doesn’t have the same participation as other sports at the school, and that impact is particularly felt during a pandemic-shortened season.

While the season is young, the Coyotes (2-2) had a game to forget against rival Poston Butte on Tuesday, losing 18-0 in five innings at home. Errors and other miscues by fielders, in addition to 12 walks and a hit batter from the pitching staff, sunk Combs’ ship fast.

But it isn’t a young roster, as the Coyotes have five juniors and five seniors on the 14-player varsity.

“We didn’t play like we’ve been doing anything right in the program today,” Combs coach Rick Surls said after the Poston Butte game. “I take the blame as the coach for not preparing these guys for this game.”

There’s no doubt Poston Butte (4-0) is one of the best teams in Class 4A, and Combs will play the Broncos again Friday. Surls is hoping for a much more competitive effort from his team in the rematch.

The senior group for the Coyotes includes Tim Johnson, DJ Mathus, Jordan Johnson, Arthur Vasquez and transfer Ryker Crumpton.

Against lesser competition, Combs has had no trouble scoring runs. Its two wins came by scores of 16-8 over American Leadership Academy-Queen Creek and 18-1 over Surprise Paradise Honors.

Mendoza (6 for 10) and sophomore Tanner McKenzie (8 for 15) have been swinging the hottest bats, as each is batting better than .500 with six RBIs. Mendoza already has five doubles, while McKenzie has two doubles and a triple.

Combs had just three hits — all singles — against the Broncos on Tuesday. Mendoza reached twice on a hit and a walk, and the other hits came from McKenzie and junior Luke Larson.

With a brief offseason, coupled with no preseason tournament games, Surls said his team is not as prepared as usual for the regular season.

“We were not as ready,” he said. “I probably had five or six fall games that were changed because of COVID, canceled outright ... Then you get down to the wire, and you need time to prepare the field and do other things that are involved in the season. We couldn’t play right up into January like some teams do, so we kind of took January off.”

Then when the season was pushed back, Combs was also off in February. Surls said tryouts and practice, which normally take place in February, were moved into March. The first regular season game for the Coyotes was March 12, a 13-2 loss to Gilbert Mesquite.

“We just don’t have a lot of depth at our positions,” Surls said. “The guys aren’t working as hard as they should be because no one’s pushing them. Might have to shake that up, move some guys around ... put some pressure on them within to earn their job and realize how important that is.”

Surls said for whatever reason, baseball isn’t as popular at Combs as other sports. There were a couple of players he thought would come out to play this season who decided against it.

The Coyotes, he said, will lean on guys like Mendoza and Crumpton for leadership.

Combs won’t be able to rely on dominant pitching, but just displaying better command will go a long way. The pitching staff has 22 walks in 20 1/3 innings, which has led to a team ERA of 7.92 through four games.

Alongside Mendoza and McKenzie, Vasquez and Larson are producing at the plate. Through four games, Larson is hitting .444 with two doubles and four RBIs, and Vasquez has a .667 on-base percentage with a team-high seven runs scored.


Brian Wright is the sports editor at PinalCentral. He can be reached at