McALESTER — When the 2014 Jr. Sunbelt Classic baseball tournament begins Friday in McAlester and Wilburton, nine states will try to dethrone defending champion Arizona. The 2013 Arizona team lost its first game, then rattled off nine consecutive wins in six days to capture the crown.
Not one 2013 Arizona kid will be back for the 2014 Sunbelt, but that hasn’t lowered Arizona director Scott Richardson’s expectations.
“Our no. 1 priority is we’re going to try to win the tournament,” Richardson said Wednesday.
Richardson said that when it comes to the Sunbelt, pitching depth is king. For Arizona, that depth starts with Zach Pederson, a right-handed pitcher from Division I state champion Hamilton High School in Chandler.
Richardson said if any 2014 Arizona pitcher mirrors 2013 Sunbelt Outstanding Pitcher Calvin LeBrun, it’s Pederson.
“He really pitches backwards,” Richardson said of Pederson. “He can throwing breaking pitches in any count.”
Arizona will also bring Zach McLeod, a left-handed pitcher from Division 2 champion Greenway High School in Phoenix. McLeod batted .429 and posted a 0.74 earned run average during Greenway’s season, according to MaxPreps.com.
“He’s got a little velocity,” Richardson said of McLeod. “He’s an upper 80s guy that has command of a good breaking ball and just competes.”
Tyler Wyatt from Liberty High School and Donnie Sands from Salpointe Catholic should both split their time between the middle infield and the pitcher’s mound. Wyatt batted .472 with 40 RBIs and 35 runs scored during the season, Sands batted .415 with 22 RBIs and runs scored, and both also pitched.
“Both of those guys are middle infielders who are upper 80s, low 90s guys on the mound, so they’re going to be fun to watch,” Richardson said.
“We’ve never come over with less than 14 arms. ... When choosing this team, two-way players are at a premium.”