Hansen’s Top Teams, No.24: Tucson High’s 1988 squad repeated as baseball champs | Subscriber

The reason Tucson has long been considered a baseball town is because Tucson High School won a remarkable 26 state baseball championships from 1912–1959.

But Tucson High’s place as a baseball juggernaut then paused as newer schools such as Sahuaro, Rincon, Catalina, Santa Rita and Canyon del Oro became state baseball champions.

The Badgers’ good old baseball days seemed to be gone forever as Tucson’s population center shifted and competition intensified.

But in 1987, Tucson coach Tom Lundy created not just a flashback to the Badgers’ glory days but triggered one of the most successful four-year periods of high school baseball in Tucson history.

Lundy surrounded himself with one of the leading coaching staffs in the state, often referring to himself as the “coordinator of the program.” His staff included Tony Gabusi, who would go on to coach Catalina High School to a state championship; Oscar Romero, who would succeed Lundy and win 488 games for the Badgers until he retired in 2018; and one of the Badgers’ top players of the 1960s, Willie Morales Sr.

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And then the talent rolled in.

The Badgers won back-to-back state championships in 1987 and 1988 with rosters that included pitcher Craig Bjornson, now the bullpen coach for the New York Mets; Edgar Soto, who became the head baseball coach and athletic director at Pima College; Eric Tatham, who would go on to coach Cienega High School to four state softball championships; and future major-leaguers Wiliie Morales Jr. and Tavo Alvarez.

It has been more than three decades since the ’88 Badgers went 28-2, completing the season with a 22-game winning streak to win a second consecutive state championship, but it’s difficult to imagine any team in Tucson history having two more dominant players than Morales and Alvarez.

Morales, a four-year starter at catcher, still owns the career hits record for Tucson prep baseball, with 153, believed to be the second-highest total in Arizona history. He became an All-Pac-10 catcher for Arizona in 1993 before becoming a catcher for the Baltimore Orioles in 2000.

Alvarez went 30-5 as a Tucson High pitcher over three seasons after moving to Tucson from Cuidad Obregon, Mexico. Alvarez, at 6 feet 4 inches, was the Shohei Ohtani of Tucson prep baseball. When not pitching, he hit .502 and .486 with 14 homers in his last two seasons at Tucson High. Alvarez was the 40th overall draft pick of 1990, and reached the Montreal Expos’ pitching rotation in 1995.

It all came together in 1988 as Mike Leon became a shutdown pitcher, posting an 11-1 record with a 2.07 ERA. Leon had incomparable bloodlines. He is the son of the top baseball player in Tucson High history, 1960s shortstop Eddie Leon, a two-time Arizona All-American who played eight years in the major leagues.

Infielder Robert Hernandez hit .401, first baseman Vance Costelow hit .421 and Morales, a sophomore, hit .475. Alvarez was 8-1 as a pitcher, beating Phoenix South Mountain in the state semifinals to set up a championship showdown against Tempe McClintock.

Trailing 4-2 in its final at-bat, Tucson rallied to win 6-4 when Hernandez hit a three-run double and relief pitcher Phillip Bejarano came on in the bottom of the seventh for his 10th save of the season.

“It’s a never-say-die outfit,” said Lundy, who would retire from coaching to become the Badgers’ athletic director a year later. “When I get back to Tucson, I think I’ll have to dye my gray hair black.”

Matt Witkowski of Glendale Deer Valley, left, is unable to keep Tucson High’s Ron Horn from safely stealing second base in the 1988 state quarterfinals.

Mari A Schafer, Arizona Daily Star 1988

The 1980s might’ve been the most competitive years of high school baseball in Tucson history. Amphi, Sahuaro, CDO, Santa Rita and Tucson all won state championships at the big-school’s level. The coaches, such as Sahuaro’s Hal Eustice, CDO’s Roger Werbylo and Santa Rita’s Dan Moore were among the top in the state.

But the ’88 Badgers were the best of the decade.

With Alvarez and Morales returning for ’89 and ’90, Tucson appeared to be in position to win four consecutive state titles, but it didn’t happen because the Badgers were unable to deploy a reliable No. 2 pitcher to back up Alvarez.

Tucson High star Willie Morales played for the Baltimore Orioles in 2000, then spent time playing for the top minor-league affiliates of the Rockies, Cardinals and Diamondbacks.

Benjie Sanders, Arizona Daily Star 2002

The ’89 Badgers went 22-5 with Alvarez was the city’s player of the year, and the ’90 Badgers went 21-5 as Alvarez went 13-1 with 100 strikeouts, while Morales hit .507 with 10 home runs.

The Tavo and Willie Show concluded its three-year run, 1988–90, with a 71–12 record and a state championship, which remains the last of Tucson High’s 29 state baseball titles.

Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or ghansen@tucson.com. On Twitter: @ghansen711


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