Hamilton's baseball team endured its shortest state-tournament run since 2001 last year. It wasn't because the Huskies lacked the talent.
The one-and-done format instituted the past two years in the first two rounds bit Hamilton after several years of a double-elimination format (Corona del Sol did the biting both times, even in 2001 when the tournament was single elimination). Still, since 2001 Hamilton has never failed to qualify for the state tournament. The Huskies have won championships three times and finished second three times. MIssing the state tournament seems out of the question.
So what about a rebound. Has the 2014 squad been timid in bouncing back from the rare quick exit? Hardly. After three weeks of the new season, Hamilton is perfect.
A mix of a few old and more new Huskies have Hamilton back on course. Hamilton is leading the Division I packfrom the East Valley area with all-around performance — pitching, hitting and defense. If any part of Hamilton's game is ahead of the others so far in its 10-0 getaway, it's the most important part. Pitching. The only other D-I team unbeaten thus far resides in Scottsdale with that area's perennial power, Chaparral, boasting a 9-0 record and similar prowess.
“We've caught a couple good teams with our best pitchers against guys that are not their top guys,” Hamilton coach Mike Woods said. “You look at it though, and all our pitchers have done a real nice job.”
Hamilton's 10-0 mark is equally split at 5-0 in power-ranking games and 5-0 in tournament games that don't count for state-tournament qualifying. Senior Kent Hasler, junior Zach Pederson and junior Jake Wong are a combined 9-0 — each are 3-0. Hasler has yet to allow a run in 14 innings of work. Pederson's given up two earned runs in 16 innings and Wong four earned runs in 12 innings. Also contributing to a staff that's surrendered 23 runs in 10 games are Zane Strand, Cameron Cruz, Tanner Nedin and Nick Ohanian.
“Hasler had a good year last year for us,” Woods said. “Zach was on varsity pitcher last year, but hurt his arm and didn't pitch much (three innings). Wong has stepped up and helped with a couple solid games.”
The defense behind the pitching has been stellar — nine errors in 10 games. Eight of those games have seen Hamilton make one or no errors. Five of the miscues were committed in one game — a game the Huskies still managed to win.
Hamilton's offense hasn't been shy in carrying its part of the winning burden. The Huskies have scored 95 runs and done so with a lineup that returned three starting position players who each batted around .285 last season — seniors Ryan Peep, Austin Filiere and Justin Wylie.
That returning trio usually fills the top three spots in the batting order and are followed by senior newcomer Jake Boston. Combined the quartet are 57-for-121 (.471 average and 42 RBI). Boston and Peep have three homers each. Filiere has the top average at .541 and Boston is batting .519. Peep has 16 RBI and Boston has 14. Hamilton has a a tough two-game road trip this week facing Brophy (7-2) on Tuesday and Division II power Greenway (7-0) on Thursday.
“It''s still early yet, but I like the way we're playing,” Woods said. “We have a big week ahead. We figure to see some good pitchers like (Brophy's Ryan) Castellani and maybe (Greenway's Tyler) Frost.”
The list of D-I teams besides Hamilton and Chaparral with great early success is long. That's why Woods is wise enough to be cautious and optimistic about the Huskies' chances.
NOTE: Other teams off to fast starts: Perry 10-2; Highland 9-2; Mountain Pointe, Brophy, Corona del Sol and Tolleson 7-2; Desert Ridge 9-3; Valley Vista 10-1; Mesquite 9-4; Horizon and Desert Vista 8-3 and Sandra Day O'Connor 5-2. Many schools in D-I and D-II will be competing in tournaments through late this month. It's the beginning of April when games are exclusively power-ranking games the list of top teams will narrow.