All-Madera Tribune Baseball Team
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera South’s Murf Gray gets congratulations from head coach Alan Sandoval during a 2021 game. Gray earned The All-Madera Tribune Baseball Most Valuable Player award after a season in which he flirted with a .500 batting average.
Most Valuable Player
Murf Gray, P-SS Jr. Madera South
Stats: .474 BA, 30 R, 45 H, 30 RBI, 12 2B, 5 HR, 1.69 ERA, 7-3, 86 K, 62 IP
By far, one of the best baseball prospects in recent years. He is just beginning to touch the potential he has. When Murf pitches, it’s like must-watch television. Some of his breaking pitches have so much movement, I don’t know how hitters even see the ball. With his velocity and mental make-up on the mound, his rocket ship will fly high. On top of being one of the best pitchers in the Central Section as a junior, he is one of the best hitters, as well. He led the team with a .474 batting average to go with a team-leading 12 doubles and five home runs. By far, those were team-leading totals. He ended up with an OPS of 1.326 where a .900 is a good year. Expectations are high for Gray and the rest of the Stallions heading into next year where they were the top seed in Div. IV last season. Gray was the only Madera/Madera South player to earn first team All-County Metro Athletic Conference.
Co-Pitchers of the Year
Nate Martinez and Nate Palacioz P Sr. Madera
Stats: Martinez 3.23 ERA, 67 1/3 IP, 77 K; Palacioz 2.27 ERA, 61 2/3 IP, 56 , 59 IP.
If you look at just the postseason alone, this is where both Martinez and Palacioz won the award. They were the only two pitchers Madera head coach Andy Underwood used in their run to the Div. II Central Section title. Martinez tossed a complete game in a 5-1 opening win over Tulare. Palacioz followed with a complete game against Fresno. Martinez tossed 5 2/3 innings to get the win against El Diamante-Fresno with eight strikeouts. Palacioz came in relief and got the save with a1 1/3 innings. Palacioz then took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and finished with a two-hitter in the Valley Championship game against top seed Arroyo Grande. Just those performances alone gave the pair the award. However, they were Underwood’s go-to pitchers all year long and got better and better as the year went on. Palacioz also earned second team All-CMAC.
Utility Player of the Year
Quaid Copher, 3B-P Sr. Liberty
Stats: .449 BA, 40 H, 36 R, 10 2B, 6-3 record, 3:.52 ERA, 51 2/3 IP, 62 K.
Copher is the only three-time member of this year’s All-Madera Tribune team. He would have been a four-time selection, but there wasn’t much of a season last year. Copher is going down as one of the best athletes Liberty has had. He was the tablesetter for the Hawks’ offense and one of their go-to players. He not only had the temperament for the top of the order and to be the ace of the staff, he also knew what to do. Copher also earned All-League honors in basketball and cross country and also played on the football team — all within a two month span. He was the North Sequoia League Utility Player of the Year.
Xavier Cantu, C Jr. Madera South
Stats: .316 BA, 14 runs, 25 H, 24 RBI, 6 2B
When Cantu earned the permanent starting spot behind the plate, his offense took off. He was fourth on the team in batting average and was second to Gray in RBI’s. He was Madera South’s clean-up batter for most of the season and came up clutch a number of times. He also walked 22 times and had a .994 OPS and reached base half of the time.
Max Vestal, C Jr. Liberty
Stats: .294 BA, 25 H, 21 runs, 19 RBIs.
Vestal began to hit for the Hawks and worked his way to the clean-up spot in the line-up. He provided stability, not only in the middle of the line-up, but also behind the plate. He was the leader of the infield, although quiet. He was one the Hawks could count on behind the plate. Head coach Derek Kuhn knew who was going to be behind the plate for the Hawks each and every game. He was a second team All-NSL selection.
Isaac Flores, C Sr. Madera
Stats: .304 BA, 21 runs, 8 2B.
Flores was the big bat at the bottom of Underwood’s line-up. Like the other two catchers, he provided stability behind the plate. Everyone knew who was going to catch for the Coyotes. Flores used his left-handed swing to perfection. He was also quick enough to lay down the slap bunt. Flores had a huge game in the quarterfinals against Fresno where he went 3-for-4 with a double, three RBIs and two runs scored. He backed that up with a pair of runs scored in the Valley Championship game.
Elijah Tang, 2B-LF, Soph. Madera South
Stats: .379 BA, 24 R, 33 H, 21 RBI.
When head coach Alan Sandoval wrote out his line-up, Tang found his way to the No. 3 spot in the order. Jokingly, this reporter called Tang the smallest No. 3 hitter in the Valley. However, Tang produced often enough. He was third on the team in hits with 33, third in RBIs with 21 and also hit two doubles and a triple while ranking second on the team in batting average. He worked his way to the top of the line-up and kept producing to remain there. He also led the team with 16 stolen bases.
Evan Candelaria, 3B Sr. Madera
Stats: .305 BA, 25 H, 14 R, 15 RBI.
Candelaria finished second on the team in hitting, behind Isaiah Monge, while providing excellent play at third base. He found himself on the mound at times, but was more comfortable at the hot corner. Not only that, when he was on the mound, third base defense suffered for Underwood. He led the team in RBIs and provided a big bat in the line-up behind Monge.
Isaiah Monge, SS Sr. Madera
Stats: .359 BA, 28 H.
Monge played baseball and basketball at the same time during the season, but baseball was where he excelled. Monge played solid defense at short and came up with the highlight play every so often. However, he was a solid No. 3 hitter in the Madera line-up. While he was a force with the bat, he also was second on the team in walks while earning a .917 OPS. He also earned second team All-CMAC honors.
Jackson Bucher, SS Jr. Liberty
Stats: .404 BA, 38 H, 27 R, 8 2B, 15 RBI.
Bucher is just a hitting machine. Fitting right in behind Copher in Kuhn’s line-up, he was probably the best No. 2 hitter in the section not named Murf Gay. Bucher backed up a solid freshman season with a solid junior year. He is the only player with two All-Madera Tribune selections this season. He also earned another All-NSL first team selection.
David Zavala, OF Sr. Madera
Stats: .264 BA, 23 H, 5 2B.
Known for his head of hair, Zavala made the most of his senior season. While coming up as a shortstop, he moved to centerfield where he provided gold glove type defense. He made the play of the game in the Valley Championship game by making a diving, over-the-shoulder catch while crashing into the centerfield fence. That, alone, would have earned honors somewhere. However, Zavala, who also played quarterback for the football team, was Coyotes’ lead-off hitter and leader.
Logan Wattenbarger, OF Jr. Madera
Stats: .244 BA, 20 H, 14 runs.
While his stats aren’t eye-popping, Wattenbarger got better as the season went on. He got a late start because he was playing football, but played his best baseball later in the season. Known for his speed, when Wattenbarger got on first, it was as good as a double. He reached base three times against Arroyo Grande, stole two bases and scored a pair of runs, including the first run of the game. He earned second team All-CMAC honors.
Brian Monges, OF Jr. Madera South
Stats: .347 BA, 32 runs, 35 hits, 3 3B
Monges got off to a hot start getting eight hits in his first 10 at bats. Although he cooled off, he didn’t really get cold. He was a prototypical lead-off batter. He took pitches, worked the count and got on base. He was third on the team in batting average, but led the team in runs and was second in hits. He also stole nine bases.
McGuire Smith, OF Fr. Liberty
Stats: .404 BA, 36 H, 24 runs, 7 2B, 5 3B, 33 RBI
Like Bucher did two years ago, Smith came out in his freshman year like gangbusters. He was second on the team in batting average, hits, runs and doubles, trailing only Copher. He also led the team in triples and RBI’s. Smith had the benefit of batting behind Copher and Bucher so there was almost always an RBI chance and Smith didn’t let too many go by. Look for him to be on this list for the next three years. Not only did he earn a first team All-NSL selection, but he was also named the league’s Underclassman of the Year.
Nathen Medina, P-3B So. Liberty
Stats: .386 BA, 27 H, 20 R, 6 2B, 17 RBI
With Medina batting fifth, the top of the Liberty line-up was lethal. Copher set the stage, Bucher moved him over, Smith brought in runs, and Vestal and Medina were there to clean up the bases. Medina played third while Copher pitched and when he was pitching, Copher played third and both made the move seamless.
Jasir Alvarez, DH-1B Jr. Madera South
Stats: .286 BA, 24 H, 13 RBI.
Towards the end of the season, Alvarez started to get hot. He was in and out of the line-up and kind of getting shuffled from the mound to catcher to first base before finally settling in at designated hitter. When he did that, his bat got hot and he came up with come clutch hits for the Stallions. Now, all eyes are going to be on the now-senior-heavy Stallions’ team in 2022.
Hudson Groh, P Fr. Liberty
Stats: 3.18 ERA, 37.1 IP, 36 K.
As a freshman, Groh stepped up big time for the Hawks. With all eyes on Copher, Groh began to log innings late in the year and recorded the best ERA on the team in 37 innings. He struck out 36 batters and looks to become the ace of the staff in the next three years. He earned second team All-NSL honors.