Tucson High School Sports

SOFTBALL: Bert Otero comes out of retirement to lead Tucson; Malaea Rocha hits 2-run shot to beat the Badgers

Hall of Fame coach Bert Otero talks things over with future Arizona Wildcat Carlie Scupin. (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

 

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Bert Otero coached in the time of giants. He led Desert View to a runner-up finish in 1991 and a state championship in 2000. Those were the days of Billy Lopez at Sahuaro, Armando Quiroz at Flowing Wells and Phil Gruensfelder at Salpointe. The Canyon del Oro powerhouse in Oro Valley was in its infancy, Cienega High School was nothing more than a patch of desert in Vail and the best “big school” softball was played in the city. Things have changed.

Otero attended Tucson High, was a member of the school’s 1970-71 state championship football team and then went on to play baseball in college. His success at Desert View led to an early entrance into the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame in 2006, five years before he retired in 2011.

Canyon del Oro had seven titles by the time he retired in 2011, Cienega had a championship and Sunnyside was the last high school in the city to win a title (2007). A team from Tucson wouldn’t win a state championship again until Pueblo won one in 2016 and Salpointe’s 4A championship last year ended an 11-year drought from the upper division Tucson programs. The suburbs had taken over.

Otero had been rumored to take over several jobs since he retired but nothing seemed right until Danielle Rodriguez stepped away from the Badger program this past summer. The former Tucson standout went on to play for and win a championship with Arizona, and she became the head coach of Tucson in 2012 but winning over 24 games a year requires a lot of time and Rodriguez stepped away to concentrate on her teaching career. The time had come.

“I still have the fire and this was the perfect choice for me,” Otero said. “This old Badger has a lot of pride and I’m still full of tradition. This has been more of a joy than anything else and these girls made the transition so easy for me. They are all classy ladies and are so coachable. They are also highly skilled and they are all incredible athletes.

The Badgers played in back-to-back state championships in 1990 and 1991 under John Nitke and the current roster has the feel of a team ready to get back to the top. The Badgers made it to the third round of the 6A playoffs last year and the semifinal round the year before. The talent is there and it was on display under the lights at Salpointe Thursday night.

As mentioned before, Salpointe (1-0) brought home the 4A championship last year but the Lancers lost six seniors to graduation, including current ASU standout Yannira Acuna. The current team has two seniors to go along with six freshmen and five sophomores. It’s going to be a difficult task to get back to a championship run but the team grew up a lot Thursday night according to head coach Amy Baray-Rocha.

“I told them they learned a lot tonight,” Rocha explained. “They were babies playing against women and they grew up before my eyes in the last two hours.”

Typically, teams like Salpointe use the Dorado Classic as a primer for the season, but the snow cancelled the longstanding tournament last week so all those freshmen were thrown into a battle with a power-hitting team and they ultimately came out on top, 9-8 despite giving up five home runs…..

GAME STORY AT AZPREPS365.COM

Amy Baray-Rocha congratulates Kat Payne on her 3-run shot in the bottom of the first. (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

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Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014 and he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017 and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is the Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Contact Andy Morales at

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