Mica Mountain’s freshman phenoms put charge into Thunderbolts’ 4A playoff push

Symbolic of Mica Mountain’s burgeoning softball and baseball programs, each in their second year of varsity existence, a couple of their freshman pitchers were significant in the first postseason victories for each team Wednesday.

Acelynnrose Heston and Raydon Rocha produced complete-game victories in 4A state playoffs play-in games at Mica Mountain’s impressive facilities.

Heston and Rocha each allowed only three hits — Heston in a 3-0 win over Mesquite and Rocha in 7-4 victory over Vista Grande.

Heston struck out nine and walked three to help Mica Mountain (14-9) snap a four-game losing streak.

“It’s intense and I have to make sure I’m keeping a positive attitude,” Heston said of the responsibility of starting in the circle in the postseason game.

“Just not getting into my head. I have to think about one pitch at a time and being able to focus on the game.”

Rocha allowed one earned run with seven strikeouts and two walks. He also helped himself at the plate, going 1 for 3 with an RBI.

Mica Mountain’s softball and baseball teams will learn of their first-round opponents in a bracket reveal Thursday. Their first game in the tournament is Saturday.

Both are playing with predominantly underclassmen.

The softball team’s grade breakdown — one senior, three juniors, four sophomores and seven freshmen.

The baseball team — two seniors, five juniors, seven sophomores and three freshmen.

“We just kind of started last year with our first year having varsity and we’re still young,” said Shane Folsom, the baseball coach who led Sabino to the 2019 and 2021 state titles. “The future’s really bright. It feels good to get that first win and move on.”

Heston and Rocha have a background of playing in competitive club games against a high level of competition that has prepared them for moments such as Wednesday.

Heston plays for SOZO Fastpitch Softball and Rocha is a member of the Rebels Baseball Club.

“For the first (postseason) win and everything, it honestly felt great,” Rocha said. “Love bonding with these guys. Best team probably I’ve ever bonded with. Love these guys.”

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Heston also had an RBI to help her cause against Mesquite (7-16-1).

The Thunderbolts broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the third when Riley Johnson hit a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Bibiana Tanori, who singled with one out to start the rally.

Tanori, a sophomore, again sparked run production in the fifth with a leadoff single.

After Violet Redondo and Johnson walked with one out to load the bases, Garcia hit a sacrifice fly to left field to score Tanori.

Heston followed with a line-drive single to centerfield to score Redondo and put Mica Mountain ahead 3-0.

“We knew that team (Mesquite) came in with a lot of energy and we had to match it,” Mountain View coach Steve Garcia said. “Biggest thing was trying to stay focused and stay on our game plan and trusting what we were trying to do. We had to scratch and claw for every run we had to manufacture today.

“Every game throughout our season prepares us for the playoffs. The intensity of high school softball in today’s culture, with all the club players that now play high school softball, every game has prepared us for today an moving forward.”

Garcia called Heston a “warrior.”

Heston is 8-6 with a 2.66 ERA with 113 strikeouts and 27 walks in 94 2/3 innings. She is also batting a team-leading .453.

“I’ve never had a doubt about her ability to pitch at this level,” Garcia said. “She’s only freshman. Like I tell her, we don’t consider her a freshman, we consider her a varsity softball player. That’s why we have all the confidence in the world to put her out in the circle in big moments like this.”

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Mica Mountain’s baseball team (14-13) never trailed against Vista Grande after junior Camren Hanamoto’s two-run home run in the first inning that plated Jayden Barlet, who hit a single to lead off the inning.

The lead increased to 4-0 in the fifth inning on a fielder’s choice groundout that scored freshman Eliel Gonzalez-Cotto, who earlier doubled, and Rocha’s RBI single that plated Gonzalez-Cotto.

Barlet’s bases-clearing double in the sixth put the Thunderbolts ahead 7-0. Two walks and a batter hit by a pitch ignited the rally.

The Thunderbolts staved off a rally in the seventh inning by Vista Grande, which took advantage of a walk, hit by pitch and two errors to score four runs with one out.

Rocha, a hard-throwing right-hander, got the last two batters to pop out and strike out.

“Raydon’s been money all year, he’s been our guy on the mound,” Folsom said of Rocha, who is 5-0 with a 1.08 ERA with 51 strikeouts and 17 walks in 45 1/3 innings.

“Raydon’s been really good. For a freshman, he’s been calm and cool. He’s got good stuff. I can’t wait to watch him the next three years.”


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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