WILLIAMS, Ariz. - With snow still hitting northern Arizona just this week, it's hard to believe baseball season is starting soon. But, it is.
And the Williams High School (WHS) Vikings baseball team, coached by Phillip Echeverria and Johnny Hatcher, actually already began practicing last week.
"I'm just excited for the year, we return eight starters," said Echeverria. "And with the addition of a transfer student from Ash Fork it makes us a pretty strong team."
Echeverria hopes to improve over last year's finish when the Vikings made it all the way to the state tournament but lost in the first round.
"Goals for us are to qualify for the state playoffs and possibly win a sectional championship," Echeverria said. "That's based on power points, but if you win your games you can put yourself in a position to win a sectional championship. Another goal for us is to advance in the state tournament and make the second, third or fourth round."
Under Echeverria's tutelage the past six years as head coach, the Vikings have made it to state six consecutive years and advanced to the second round three times out of those six trips.
The Vikings' 22-man roster this season includes five seniors, eight juniors, eight sophomores, and one freshman. Echeverria said he was a little disappointed in the freshman class turnout and hopes more will come out next year to ensure the program stays strong.
Echeverria said for his team to be successful this year they need to come together as a team, accept the team concept and move forward with any adversity that comes up because the game of baseball is a game of failure.
"You succeed three out of 10 times and you're considered an all-star in the major leagues," he said. "So there's a lot of failure, but how we respond to that failure is key for us this year."
Four of the five seniors on the roster this year are pitchers, including Adrian Solano, fresh off his two-week Puerto Rico baseball trip last summer. The two other Viking pitchers are juniors, Joaquin Salaz and Kohl Nixon.
Echeverria said the Vikes will have some quality arms on the mound this year but his team will still have to play strong defense.
"It's always tough for us in cold weather country because we don't get outside much before the season starts and that makes it tough defensively and offensively," the head coach said. "We do a ton of hitting inside the gym, but you're not seeing the pitch coming from the mound so when we start our season we can be a little behind when it comes to that."
The Vikings were able to get outside briefly last week and throw a bit in the outfield, but the infield was still a flooded mess. And this week the Vikes will definitely be putting the inside of the gym to use.
Offensively, the Vikings return one through seven in their batting order so Echeverria feels they will be fairly strong on that side again also.
"The transfer from Ash Fork was a good hitter when we played against him last year so we'll see where he fits in too," said Echeverria. "Hitting is all confidence and seeing the ball."
Echeverria added that the Vikings baseball players all need to be mentally prepared to do the job when they are put in a crucial situation this season.
"Baseball is probably 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical," Echeverria said. "Last year we only made half the clutch plays we needed to. We need to improve that and get that up to 90 percent of the time so we are able to make the clutch hit, the clutch pitch, or the clutch throw or catch."
The Williams Vikings scrimmage at Sedona on Feb. 19 at 1 p.m. The Vikes open the season with a tournament in Gila Bend Feb. 28-March 2. Echeverria said he likes the away games early, and away tournaments back-to-back early on in the season so his team can play outdoors as much as possible.
The Vikings' first regular season game (not including tournament play) is at Sedona on March 5 at 3 p.m. The Vikings' home opener is March 13 at 2 p.m. against the Northland Preparatory Academy Spartans from Flagstaff.