Baseball: Villagomez, ’Blazers seek to continue rise on diamond

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Overland's Dario Villagomez
Overland senior Dario Villagomez fires a pitch in the Trailblazers’ 10-9 extra-inning loss at Rangeview on March 29, 2014. Villagomez is 2-0 with a sparkling 1.33 ERA and 38 strikeouts early in his senior season. (Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

The book is out in the Centennial League on Dario Villagomez.

That’s what happens when you pitch in the same league for four seasons, which is just what the Overland senior ace has done.

But even though the league knows him well, they still have to hit him. And that has proven to be as difficult as it ever has been. Ask Grandview, which struck out 13 times and managed just three hits in seven innings against the Garden City (Kan.) C.C. signee in the Trailblazers’ 9-0 win — the first in program history against the Wolves — on March 25.

Overland senior Dario Villagomez
Overland senior left-handed pitcher Dario Villagomez has racked up nearly 200 strikeouts in three-plus varsity seasons and is determined to lead the Trailblazers to the playoffs this season. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

“It’s always fun to play against teams you see a lot; I’ve pitched against the league teams a lot before, so they know what you throw and how your ball moves,” Villagomez said March 29 after tossing three scoreless innings of relief against Rangeview.

“But I’m feeling great, better than ever,” he added. “We have a great team and I’m excited for everything that’s coming to us.”

That prospect is concerning for the rest of the Centennial League.

In Villagomez’s time at Overland, he and several of the other seniors who came in with him — including Joe Slocum, a first team All-Centennial League selection last season — have made the Trailblazers more than just a speedbump for the league powers.

There was the game Overland led powerhouse Cherry Creek 1-0 through six innings last year with Villagomez on the mound, only to lose 2-1 on two solo home runs.

The Trailblazers swept Eaglecrest last season — their first sweep of a league team in decades —and the win over Grandview this season was a first for the program.

Most of that transformation can be traced back to the confidence Overland has when Villagomez — who’s cemented himself as arguably Aurora’s second most-accomplished pitcher behind Regis Jesuit ace David Peterson, who is currently sidelined by injury — is on the mound.

“We play our best baseball with Dario on the mound; he’s definitely special,” Overland coach Mike Prichard said of Villagomez, who is 2-0 with a sparkling 1.22 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 23 innings.

In his three-plus varsity seasons, Villagomez has an 8-8 record (1-3 in 2011, 4-5 with a 2.69 ERA in 2012, 1-0 with five complete games in 2013 and 2-0 thus far this season) and he’s racked up strikeouts in bunches. With seven more punchouts against Rangeview, Villagomez has pushed his Overland career record in strikeouts to nearly 200. His understanding of situations, however, has made him especially tough to hit, even for hitters who have faced him multiple times.

Former Overland pitching coach Seth LaVigne — who now holds the same position at Valor Christian — said he could tell Villagomez was a “scrappy little son of a gun,” from the first time he met him as a ballyhooed freshman.

For three years, LaVigne — who pitched in high school with a similar program at Denver East in the 1990s — imparted as much pitching knowledge as he could in Villagomez, who soaked it in and put it into practice on the mound, improving his mental approach to supplement his physical ability to throw hard.

“Dario understands 0-2 and 1-2 counts better than any pitcher I’ve ever coached,” LaVigne said. “He used to get mad at me for making him throw balls out of the zone high, but then he realized he was getting more strikeouts throwing effective balls than trying to pound the zone with two strikes.

“When you are effective getting outs when hitters are not being disciplined, that’s because you are dominating,” added LaVigne, who believes Villagomez has the control and stuff to throw a perfect game before his high school career is through.

Any triumph against Villagomez is a satisfying one for league coaches.

Eaglecrest’s Tory Humphrey saw Villagomez hold his team to just two runs in 14 innings last season, but was pleased when his Raptors scratched out six runs — two earned — against him when they met this season and go on to win the game 11-7.

“Every time I see Mike (Prichard), I ask him why he throws Dario against us every time we play,” Humphrey said with a smile. “He said ‘I’m sorry, I’ve got to go for the wins.’ It felt good to knock him out after what he did to us last year.”

As much as he is looking forward to the future — where he will team with friend and fellow ace Alex Achtermann of Cherokee Trail at Garden City — Villagomez is determined to team with his fellow seniors to end a postseason drought for Overland that’s lasted more than a decade.

“We’re going to the playoffs; I’m not doubting it at all,” Villagomez said. “We can beat any team in the league. …Everybody on this team knows their place and where to be. It’s a good baseball team and I’m loving it.”

Centennial League powers tend to reload rather than rebuild and that’s expected to be the case again this season with Cherry Creek, Grandview and Arapahoe expected to be in the mix again, although Overland believes it has a legitimate shot to finish in the upper half of the conference.

Grandview graduated a lot from the team that made last season’s 5A baseball championship series, but returns veteran arms such as senior Tanner Thomas and savvy hitters like junior Eric Mingus.

Cherokee Trail and Smoky Hill also lost a lot of experience with their departed seniors classes, but each have All-Centennial League performers — first teamer Hank Hyde for the Buffs and Achtermann, a second teamer, for the Cougars — and recent tradition. The Cougars have a senior framework with Achtermann, Michael Dziurgot and Andy Schwulst, while some freshmen could eventually provide a boost.

Junior right-handed pitcher JR McDermott has shown flashes of brilliance for coach Scott Henry’s Smoky Hill team, which also has Hyde — a pitcher/infielder — back in the fold.

Humphrey’s Eaglecrest team has a left-handed pitching standout of its own in senior Jaden Fouse, along with a returning all-league performer in junior shortstop Jake Lorenzini and young talent like sophomore catcher Brandon Hernandez.

Coach Matt Darr takes over at Regis Jesuit and inherits a team with Aurora’s most talent, even with Peterson — a University of Oregon signee — on the shelf after surgery to repair a fractured fibula.

A pitching staff of seniors Zach Heath, Reagan Todd and Justin Thaxton and junior Brent Schwarz should keep the Raiders in every game, while a powerful lineup featuring Oregon State-bound shortstop Max George and Arizona State signee Todd — both All-Continental League first team selections in 2013 — plus Pacific-bound Thaxton and others can provide plenty of offense.

Rangeview started the season slowly with six straight losses, but the Raiders have a core of seniors, including Dillon Joye and Jeffrey Cordova, who believe a run at the East Metro Athletic Conference’s top spot is possible. Gateway has a force in senior Brandon Lopez and some young talent such as sophomore Edgar Castaneda.

Vista PEAK has a new head coach in Tyler Hettich, who finally has a senior class to work with as the Bison seek the first winning season in program history. Senior Paul White is a versatile component and will be a force behind the plate, while Colten Thomsen and Iomar Rodriguez will be key pieces in the field and at the plate.

Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel

2014 AURORA BASEBALL SEASON

Returning all-league 1st & 2nd team selections: Alex Achtermann, RHP/INF, sr., Cherokee Trail (2013 All-Centennial League second team); Colton Bennett, INF, sr., Rangeview (2013 All-EMAC second team); Max George, INF, sr., Regis Jesuit (2013 All-Continental League first team); Devin Huschka, C, sr., Smoky Hill (2013 All-Centennial League second team); Hank Hyde, INF/RHP, sr., Smoky Hill (2013 All-Centennial League first team); Dillon Joye, INF/RHP, sr., Rangeview (2013 All-EMAC second team); Brandon Lopez, INF/DH/RHP, sr., Gateway (2013 All-EMAC second team); Jacob Lorenzini, INF, jr., Eaglecrest (2013 All-Centennial League second team); Eric Mingus, INF, jr., Grandview (2013 All-Centennial League second team); David Peterson, LHP, sr., Regis Jesuit (2013 All-Continental League first team) (injured, may not play this season); Joe Slocum, INF/RHP, sr., Overland (2013 All-Centennial League first team); Reagan Todd, INF/LHP, sr., Regis Jesuit (2013 All-Continental League first team); Dario Villagomez, LHP/OF, sr., Overland (2013 All-Centennial League first team)

Other Aurora players to watch: Jack Brett, INF, sr., Regis Jesuit; Edgar Castaneda, RHP/INF, soph., Gateway; Jeffrey Cordova, C, sr., Rangeview; Michael Dziurgot, RHP/INF, sr., Ch. Trail; Jaden Fouse, LHP/OF, sr., Eaglecrest; Brendan Hays, RHP/OF, sr., Grandview; Zach Heath, RHP, sr., Regis Jesuit; Brandon Hernandez, C, soph., Eaglecrest; Evan Kercher, RHP/INF, sr., Rangeview; JR McDermott, RHP/OF, jr., Smoky Hill;  Joseph Sanchez, C, sr., Overland; Brent Schwarz, RHP, jr., Regis Jesuit; Andy Schwulst, C, sr., Ch. Trail; Morgan Smith, RHP/INF, jr., Grandview; Justin Thaxton, RHP/INF, sr., Regis Jesuit; Tanner Thomas, RHP, sr., Grandview; Colten Thomsen, RHP/INF, jr., Vista PEAK; Paul White, C/INF, sr., Vista PEAK