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PLAYOFF ACES: Centennial’s Forrest returns to big stage

Posted 4/28/17

Centennial senior pitcher Aaron Forrest poses for a photograph during practice Monday, April 24, 2017 at Centennial High School in Peoria. (Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps)

By Richard Smith

West …

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PLAYOFF ACES: Centennial’s Forrest returns to big stage

Centennial senior pitcher Aaron Forrest poses for a photograph during practice Monday, April 24, 2017 at Centennial High School in Peoria. (Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps)

By Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

If Aaron Forrest puts together another shutdown performance in the playoffs in Saturday's first round game against Apollo, this one will not come as a surprise.

The Centennial senior pitcher shocked Phoenix Pinnacle with a complete game 4-1 victory on the road after entering the 2016 first-round game with a 2-5 record.

Neither the ace nor his Coyote teammates picked up where they left off, starting the regular season 1-3 and dipping to 1-8-1 overall. Forrest was 0-3 in this stretch.

“Last year I was kind of part of the senior group but not really part of it. They kind of took me in which was nice,” Forrest said. “This year, being that guy, it was a little bit of pressure. I’ve stopped trying to be too perfect and I just go and throw.”

The whole program was adjusting to the departure of Mike Oesterle and his staff. Though Vince Castaldo signed up for a one-year interim gig, his entire staff is new and the approach is a bit different from Oesterle’s teams.

At 3-9-1 heading to 5A contender Scottsdale Chaparral on March 23, Forrest said a playoff berth sounded like a dream. Then the Coyotes stunned the Firebirds 8-4 to start a nine-game winning streak that included big victories against Queen Creek and Liberty.

Forrest pitched complete games in both upsets.

“He started off slow. Maybe it was the coaching change and getting used to his pitching coach or getting used to me. Over the past three or four weeks he’s pitching as he’s capable,” Coach Castaldo said.

Castaldo agreed to step in this year in part because of his son, Jake, and the rest of Centennial’s seven-player senior class.

Forrest did not make the varsity until his junior year but his eventual coach saw promise in him earlier.

“I had seen him from his freshman year. Jake and Aaron played together as freshmen and he had a good arm. He needed to polish up but he had a good arm, decent mechanics and was big,” Coach Castaldo said.

The coach said his ace pitches with confidence, especially in big games. He said Forrest keeps hitters off balance by changing speeds and location of his fastball, instead of trying to blow them away — and he also has a good breaking ball and changeup.

Centennial's Jake Castaldo (#2) reaches first base on a fielder's choice against Liberty Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at Liberty High School in Peoria. (Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps)

For his part, Forrest said he’s glad this team of friends came together in this last month to finish the regular season 12-6 and seal the No. 7 seed in 5A and a home game.

“I’ve known a few of these guys since kindergarten so it’s nice to be here with them,” Forrest said. “We’ve done a really nice job taking in the younger guys. You really don’t have to yell at guys to get them to do what you want. If you’re reasonable and you work with them, they’ll run through a fence for you.”

Forrest assumed that role in the fall with freshman pitcher Michael Keevins at the request of assistant coach Jeff Gahan. They lifted together and the veteran taught the new guy how to pitch smarter.

Keevins has become a spot starter in the last month. And with the new rules limiting pitch counts in Arizona, every extra arm is a bonus.

Prescribed rest for a pitcher depends on the pitcher’s age and the number of pitches thrown. On this sliding scale, seniors can throw more pitches with less days rest than a freshman.

There isn’t much effect with this team. These rules would have changed the dynamic more with the 2015 Coyotes who rolled to the final six on the back of twin aces Chaz Montoya and Casey Brown.

“I think it makes it pretty black and white. But I don’t think we would do anything different than the pitch count. We haven’t gone over 90 pitches on anybody and have gone with appropriate days of rest in between. I think it’s a good guideline to go by for the safety of the pitchers,” Coach Castaldo said.

Forrest said the old coaching staff had a pretty similar approach in 2016 as the new one does this year. He said the guidelines have more of an impact on coaches than their hurlers.

“You really have to watch it if you want a guy to throw on a certain day, especially in three game weeks,” Forrest said. “It hasn’t really changed my approach. It puts a little bit more pressure on you to be efficient, but I still try to get guys to chase if I can."