Local coach, pitcher lead Arizona to 3rd place in Sunbelt


Millennium’s Michael Sears pitches to victory in game against Team Canada

Team Arizona, featuring a few West Valley ties, secured a third-place finish June 15 by defeating Team Georgia, 7-6, in the McAlester Junior Sunbelt Classic in McAlester, Okla.

Arizona went 8-2 over the six-day tournament, and averaged nine runs per game. Tolleson baseball coach Scott Richardson managed Team Arizona, and Millennium’s Michael Sears made the roster as a pitcher. The 2016 tournament was Richardson’s 13th year involved with the coaches’ association tournament.

“It’s a pretty prestigious tournament,” Richardson said. “I think after last [year], we have 13 of our former players on college rosters. There’s a ton of big leaguers who have played in this tournament.”

The roster was selected by the Arizona Baseball Coaches Association, and was made up of 20 high school athletes from around the state. Sears was the lone West Valley player to make the squad.

“Two years ago, our catcher went to the Sunbelt and he was telling me how great it was,” Sears said. “I was talking to my high school coach, [Ryan Bethel], about it. He pulled me into his office one day and said I’d made the team.”

Sears started one game on the mound for Arizona, striking out three over six innings in a 9-2 win over Team Canada.

“I was a little shaky in the first half, missing a few spots, but [I recovered] and we ended up winning,” Sears said.

He also pitched in a relief role later in the tournament.

“It was kind of different,” Sears said. “Usually, the tournaments I play in the summer, they’re like showcases and whatnot. This one was more just playing baseball with kids from your state. It felt like you were playing for more than just a scout or yourself.

“It was a lot of fun, I loved it. Probably one of the best weeks of my life.”

Both losses Arizona suffered came by one run.

“The Tennessee game, there was a pinch-hit home run to beat us 8-7,” Sears said. “That just killed us. The other one, we lost 3-2 to Mississippi. I feel like if we played the games again, we’re the better team.”

Sears led Millennium in innings pitched during the 2016 season. The senior-to-be posted a 2.76 ERA, earned five of the team’s 10 wins and struck out 51 in 45.2 innings. Sears also threw a complete game shutout for the Tigers during his junior campaign.

Arizona also finished third in 2015, and has won the tournament twice, in 2008 and 2013. This year’s squad was only the fourth team since 2000 to win at least eight games.

Shane McOwen can be reached at smcowen@westvalleyview.com or on Twitter @ShaneMcOwen.