Prep baseball's summer season officially kicks off this weekend, with Prescott, Bradshaw Mountain and Chino Valley high schools, as well as Yavapai College's Roughrider Park, playing host to the annual Mile High Madness Tournament.
A highly competitive 16-team field of 18-and-under clubs will hit the diamond Saturday through Monday, including the local Badgers, Bears and Cougars in addition to 12 squads from the Phoenix area and one from Flagstaff.
Admission is free for the tournament, one in which teams hit with wood or composite bats rather than the customary aluminum. All games will have a two-hour time limit and will be played under high school federation rules.
Four pools of four teams each open the tourney Saturday with a round robin where every club plays two intra-pool games.
The standings in each pool at the conclusion of Saturday's action will be used to determine the teams that face one another in Sunday afternoon's inter-pool play round. First-, second-, third- and fourth-place squads from each pool will then compete against one another separately at different venues. (See tournament schedule)
On Monday, Roughrider Park will host the first-place team finals, with the tournament's third-place game at 9:30 a.m. and the tournament championship to follow at noon. The second-, third- and fourth-place team finals will be played simultaneously Monday at Prescott High, Chino Valley High and Bradshaw Mountain High, respectively.
Mile High Madness Tournament Director Bill Fernow said the 2012 tourney field has three new teams, including Chandler, Chandler Basha and Higley Williams Field.
Prescott is in Pool A with Division I Tempe Corona del Sol, Phoenix Horizon and Mesa Mountain View. The Badgers begin the tournament at home at 9 a.m. Saturday against Horizon, followed by a 2 p.m. clash versus Mountain View.
Badgers coach John Irish said he will be evaluating the "guys we're looking at to be varsity players next year" during the event. PHS finished the spring season after falling in the first round of the Division II State Tournament.
"This is the best, deepest tournament of the summer because of the number of quality teams," he said. "We get to see a lot of (former Class) 5A schools that we don't get to see (in the spring) because of scheduling."
Bradshaw Mountain is in a tough Pool D alongside D-I Mesa Desert Ridge, Basha and Gilbert. The Bears start the tourney at home at 9 a.m. vs. Basha, followed by a 2 p.m. tilt against Gilbert.
BMHS coach Randy Clifford said that he likes the Mile High Madness Tournament because his team has the opportunity to play high-caliber competition. The tourney also allows him to evaluate returning athletes as well as the fresh faces in his program.
This spring, the Bears lost in the second round of the D-II State Tournament.
"It will be a learning experience to see if we can compete," said the coach, who is losing some key starters, including pitchers, to graduation this off-season. "It's like starting over. I really don't know what I have this summer. There are a lot of openings."
Chino Valley is in Pool C with D-I Phoenix Mountain Pointe; AZ Pro, a Major League scout team of prep All-Stars from Phoenix; and D-I Chandler. The smaller-school D-III Cougars start tourney play at home at 9 a.m. vs. AZ Pro, followed by a 2 p.m. battle vs. Chandler.
This spring, CVHS finished the season by losing in the second round of the D-III State Tournament.
Cougars coach Bruce Nesbitt said his team will be a little short-handed this weekend, mainly because of absences due to CVHS's graduation on Friday.
"We'll be playing a lot of younger kids, so we'll get time to develop them," he said of his sophomores and juniors. "We're a long ways from being ready, but hopefully we'll put on a showing."
Pool B is the only pool without a local squad in it. Phoenix Brophy, the D-I state runner-up this spring; D-I Chandler Hamilton; D-II Williams Field; and D-II Coconino Peaks of Flagstaff comprise its membership.
Fernow said Chandler, Horizon, Brophy and Gilbert are among the favorites to win the tournament. Desert Ridge and Basha are in the mix as well. Most of the participating teams' rosters consist of incoming sophomores, juniors and seniors.
"Teams from the Valley (Phoenix) come up here because they like being able to evaluate their talent while escaping the heat," he said.