The grieving over the loss of its esteemed assistant coach, Ryan Hanson, and playing without a player who suffered severe head injuries and other players who suffered on the field injuries has galvanized Desert Christian.
But how the Division IV defending baseball champ managed to finish its power ranking season undefeated and earn the No. 1 seed at state despite the raw emotions is difficult to comprehend. But somehow Desert Christian found ways to move forward, beginning with the team’s coaches’ ability to deal with crises.
At one point in the season, Desert Christian also was down to 10 players, but the team rallied around each other to continue to make their families and community proud. They need each other now more than ever, including assistant coach Mike Hanson, Ryan’s father.
Mike has been an assistant at Desert Christian and assumed his son’s baseball duties.
The 34-year-old Ryan, a well-known coach in the Tucson baseball community, died unexpectedly on April 2. The player who suffered the head injuries during an ATV accident is now at home recovering, but it’s not known if he will play again this season.
The only senior on the team, Daulton Hopkins, suffered an ankle sprain on April 9 and hasn’t played since. That’s a lot of hardships for a team, especially a high school team, to deal with, but Desert Christian is healing emotionally and physically the best it can.
“I am very proud of how the players have responded,” Desert Christian coach Grant Hopkins said.
Desert Christian was blessed with not only mature but also talented players this season.
The defending champ returned eight starters to a lineup that is hitting .465 as a team this season. The team also added a transfer, sophomore Brett Grabosch (.524 ave.), and a couple of reliable freshmen, Josh Repavich (.318 ave.) and Ethan Malis (.440 ave).
The strength of this year’s Desert Christian team has been pitching and defense, Hopkins said. The 25-2 team has an ERA just under 2.00 and starts one of the state’s better dual players, junior Zach Malis (9-1, 1.49 ERA).
Malis also leads the team in hitting with a gaudy .659 batting average. Desert Christian also starts another ace, junior Andrew Edwards, who has struck out 93 batters in 43 2/3 innings.
With numbers like those it’s easy to understand why Desert Christian hasn’t lost to an Arizona team this season and to a D-IV team since its opening game last season. As one of the top eight seeds in the tournament, Desert Christian earned a first round bye in the state tournament.
It will play Bagdad in Tuesday’s second round of the single state elimination tournament. It’s been a challenging season off the field for Desert Christian, but the resolve of this team is unmatchable.