Arizona alum Murray Hicks coaches Walden Grove to 4A state quarterfinals

Some 36 years after being part of Arizona’s 1986 College World Series championship team, Murray Hicks has coached Walden Grove closer to a 4A state championship following Monday’s 4-2 win over visiting Sahuarita in a second-round game of the winner’s bracket.

Jerry Kindall would be proud.

Kindall, the late legendary baseball coach at Arizona, has eight of his former players who are now head coaches or managers at various levels of baseball, including Hicks, in his second year as Walden Grove’s coach.

The others are Terry Francona (Cleveland Guardians manager), Chip Hale (Arizona coach), Tod Brown (New Mexico coach), Casey Candaele (Triple-A Buffalo manager), Clark Crist (rookie-league Pulaski River, Va., manager), Jason Hisey (Canyon del Oro coach) and Jack Howell (Single-A Tri-City, Calif., manager).

Hicks’ four-year career at Arizona as an infielder concluded in 1986 when the Wildcats won the College World Series. Hale was a teammate.

When asked how he reacted to Hale becoming the head coach of their alma mater before this season, Hicks said, “I was really happy. I texted Chip. We kept in touch over the years. I told him when he got the job, ‘Stay 20 years, please.’ He will.”

Hale might want to message Hicks to stay at Walden Grove for a while.

The No. 2-seeded Red Wolves are 26-3 in Hicks’ second year as coach following Monday’s win against No,7 Sahuarita (21-6) to advance in the 4A state playoffs.

Walden Grove will host No. 3 seed Salpointe (20-10) on Wednesday in a quarterfinal game of the winner’s bracket.

Sahuarita will play at No. 6 Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep (22-6) on Wednesday at 4 p.m. in an elimination-bracket game. The Lancers defeated Notre Dame Prep 7-6 on Monday night.

“It’s that old baseball cliché — we have really good pitching,” Hicks said when asked about the key element of his team’s 26 wins. “We’ve had excellent defense. Our third baseman is a sophmore, Alejandro Martinez. He makes all the plays for us.

“Our catcher, Kolby Gaines, I don’t think he’s made an error all year. We have good pitching. We have great defense and we’re a really, really strong hitting team. Our team batting average is ridiculous like .427 as a team, led by Milo Rushford, our centerfielder who is at .660 or something.”

Hicks’ team also has some young talent, such as freshman first baseman Damian Lorta, who proved to be crucial in Walden Grove answering Sahuarita’s 2-0 lead in the first inning after Diego Alvarez hit a two-run home run for the Mustangs.

Rushford started the rally in the first inning with a double. One out later, Marcel Lopez hit a single to advance Rushford to third base. Lorta followed with a single to score Rushford to cut the lead to 2-1.

Lopez then scored on a fielder’s choice grounder that resulted in an error.

“It was pretty big because the momentum was on their side,” Lorta said of his run-scoring single. “The momentum came to us and we were fired up.”

Lorta is no stranger to pressure situations in a baseball tournament.

He and teammate Andrew Romo were part of the Sunnyside Little League team in 2019 that came a game away from qualifying for the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa.. West Regional games of their run that year were televised on ESPN.

Lorta is batting .420 with 11 doubles, two home runs and 28 RBIs.

When asked what has made it possible for Walden Grove to be in the quarterfinals, Lorta said, “Our energy. We’re like glue. We stick together and we pick each other up.”

No better example of that then right-handed sidearmed pitcher Alex “Guero” Urias-Calvillo, who picked up the Red Wolves on the mound in somewhat of a surprise move entering in relief of Rushford in the second inning with two outs and a runner on first base.

Urias-Calvillo shut down Sahuarita’s lineup in his 4 1/3 innings of work by scattering three hits and striking out one batter while not issuing a walk.

“It seemed like they couldn’t barrel me today — it felt like my day and didn’t feel like it was their day,” Urias-Calvillo said. “It seemed like they couldn’t handle any of my junk to the side am.”

In the meantime, Walden Grove’s lineup was able to manufacture runs in the fifth and sixth innings to take the 4-2 lead.

Guillermo Metzler opened the fifth with a single and moved to third on Romo’s single. Rushford was intentionally walked to load the bases before Gaines connected on a double that scored Metzler.

The lead increased to 4-2 in the sixth after Walden Grove loaded the bases with each runner advancing on a wild pitch with two outs.

Walden Grove continues to roll despite losing its 6-foot-3 junior ace right-hander Owen Kramkowski to an elbow injury last month. Kramkowski has committed to Arizona and Hale and the Wildcats’ coaching staff will honor that commitment despite the injury.

“He’s on the mend and they’re sticking with him,” Hicks said.


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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