Sun Belt College League

Empire grad Gonzalez’s RBI double difference in Sun Belt College Summer League All-Star Game

Empire graduate John Michael Gonzalez of the Old Pueblo Kings of the Sun Belt College Summer League (Andy Morales/

The Sun Belt College League, organized by Kino Baseball League president Bill Leith, held its fourth all-star game Sunday night at the Kino Sports Complex showcasing almost 50 of its top players.

An overflow crowd watched many local products in the game at one of the annex fields.

Empire graduate John Michael Gonzalez’s RBI double in the eighth inning was the difference in Team Kino’s 2-1 win over Team Sonora.

Gonzalez’s hit was the farthest of the night — to deep right-center field — in a game controlled by the 16 pitchers used in the game by both teams.

Gonzalez is playing in the outfield for the Old Pueblo Kings this summer in the Sun Belt College League.

“I was just relaxed, took deep breaths, see the ball, hit the ball,” said Gonzalez, who fought back after striking out in his previous at-bat. “I thought it was gone, to be honest. I kind of jogged a little bit but then I saw it hit the fence. I got on my horse and got to second.”

Tucson High graduate Isaac Ramirez (a member of the Northwest Nighthawks) scored on Gonzalez’s double that occurred with two outs in the eighth. Ramirez reached base on a hit-by-pitch and raced home around the bases on Gonzalez’s double.

After playing at Minnesota North Rainy River Junior College in 2021 and 2022, Gonzalez transferred to St. Cloud (Minnesota) University at the start of the 2022-23 school year but attended school only in the fall semester. He has since transferred to Dickinson (N.D.) State, where he is a junior.

Dickinson State had 10 players from Southern Arizona on its roster last season.

Gonzalez, who works on roofing houses during the day, considers the time playing in the Sun Belt College League to be highly beneficial after not playing this spring.

“I’m still knocking a little bit of the rust off,” he said. “Now that it’s slowly coming off, I’m starting to get my confidence back on the field now. So far, it’s been really fun. It’s really exciting every game.”

The long days of reporting to his roofing jobs after waking up at 4 a.m. and playing daily with the Kings at the Kino complex has not worn him down.

“I was really nervous in the beginning because I wasn’t sure how I was going to respond, or how I was going to act around here, just because it’s been so long (since he played),” Gonzalez said. “I come here and I lift. I felt it was a lot of pressure but now it’s just how it used to be — fun and games now.”

Team Kino scored first Monday night in the third inning on Junior Franco’s RBI single with one out. Franco, an Ironwood Ridge graduate who is playing with the Northwest Nighthawks, was a freshman at Minnesota North Rainy River Junior College this spring.

Team Sonora tied the game at 1 with two outs in the fifth when Nogales graduate Raenan Padilla of the Old Tucson Gauchos produced an RBI single. Padilla now plays for Gateway Community College at Phoenix.

An interesting development in the game was all of the three runs scored were by players who reached base by getting hit by a pitch.

Pitching was dominant overall, however, with only eight hits combined for the teams.

Brandon Napier, a Thatcher graduate, was one of the standouts of Sunday’s Sun Belt College Summer League All-Star Game (Andy Morales/

Particularly impressive was Thatcher graduate Brandon Napier of the Northwest Nighthawks. The Hastings (Neb.) College freshman struck out three batters with no walks in his 1 2/3 innings of relief for Team Kino.

Only three days remain in the regular season of the Sun Belt College League, from Wednesday to Saturday.

The playoffs begin Monday.

The Old Tucson Gauchos are in first place with a 13-3-1 record.

The top batter is El Paso native Easton Moomau, who is hitting .500 (14 of 28) for the Northwest Nighthawks. He has three doubles and nine RBIs.

Former Sunnyside standout Jovanni Toledo of the Old Tucson Gauchos and CDO graduate Lucas Casey are tied for the league’s home run lead with three.

Ramirez is the league’s RBI leader with 21.

Gerardo Grijalva, a right-hander with the Show Baseball Sluggers, has pitched the most innings (29) and has an ERA of 0.93 with 39 strikeouts and seven walks. Grijalva is a Sunnyside graduate who attends New Mexico Junior College. The strikeout total leads the league as well.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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 seven years ago and is presently a special education teacher at his alma mater Sunnyside High School.

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