Even outstanding programs like Hamilton aren't immune to early elimination in the state baseball tournament. That happened to the Huskies for the first time in more than a decade last year. Hamilton was the No. 9 seed and lost to hot, hard-charging Corona del Sol (No. 24) in the opening round. Are high seeds vulnerable this year?
Of course. That's what makes baseball (and softball) great. The line between a good and great team is thin. A great pitching performance or a ad hop can extend an underdog's season or abruptly finish a favorite's title hopes. Last year three teams beat higher seeded teams in the first round — Corona, Desert Vista (22) and Cienega (17).
Here are first-round matchups for the Division I state tournament that begins today at 11 a.m. at eight sites around the Valley. The winners advance to Tuesday's second round — another one-and-done round — before the double elimination format takes hold. The top eight seeds who received first-round byes are: #1 Hamilton, #2 Chaparral, #3 Horizon; #4 Desert Ridge; #5 Sandra Day O'Connor; #6 Mountain Pointe, #7 Pinnacle and #8 Mesquite.
No. 17 Chandler (19-8) at No. 16 Highland (17-10): Section 2 teams comprise nearly half the field (10 out of 24) and these are two of them. Highland missed the playoffs last year and Chandler qualified for the first time since 2009. The teams met 10 days ago with Chandler coming out on top, 11-10. Chandler scored three times in the seventh in that game to tie and won it in the ninth on a wild pitch. Chandler won five of its last six games while Highland was 2-3 the final two weeks. Winner plays at #1 Hamilton.
No. 24 Millennium (16-11) at No. 9 Mesa Mountan View (20-10): Mountain View is playing some of its best baseball of the season. The Toros have won seven of their last eight and just missed nabbing a bye at No. 8. Millennium was #7 last year and bowed to eventual runner-up Chaparral in a slugfest in the second round. The year before in D-II it reached the semifinals. The Tigers have relied mainly on three pitchers and any of the trio could get the starting nod. Grant Smith blanked #13 Mountain Ridge on Monday. Mountain View has displayed a 1-2 punch of Spencer Moran and Nolan Ross. Winner plays at #8 Mesquite.
No. 21 Boulder Creek (16-23) at No. 12 Centennial (18-10): Centennial has the more impressive record and when the teams met this season Centennial won handily, 13-13. Both schools failed to make the playoffs last year and are hungry for some playoff success. Centennial has won six of its last seven and shut out #5 SDO in its last game. Boulder Creek was 3-9 the final three weeks plus, but won its final two games. Winner plays at #4 Mountain Ridge.
No. 20 Liberty (19-9) at No. 13 Mountain Ridge (18-11): Mountain Ridge opened up a 10-0 lead on Liberty when the teams met last month only to watch Liberty's late rally fall short in an 11-9 loss. Mountain Ridge played seven playoff teams in the final two weeks and was 3-4 in those games. This is their first playoff appearance since 2010. Liberty moved up to Division I this year after winning one playoff game last year in D-II. Liberty has been a consistent playoff program finishing as runner-uponce and and state champion once in its first six years in 4A and D-II. Winner plays at #4 Desert Ridge.
No. 19 Perry (17-10) at No. 14 Sunnyslope (15-12): Perry slumped from late March through about two weeks of April dropping six games in a row. The Pumas won four of their last five with the only defeat 4-3 to #1 Hamilton in the finale. Perry missed the playoffs the last two years after moving up to D-I, but was D-II runner-up in 2011. Sunnyslope has eased in to Division I after posting runner-up and state title finishes the past two years in D-II. Sunnyslope won seven of its last nine games and posted a 2-1 in over #2 Chaparral behind the pitching of Calvin Lebrun on Monday. Winner plays at #3 Horizon.
No. 22 Gilbert (15-13) at No. 11 Brophy Prep (19-8): Gilbert managed to hang on for a playoff spot in the final week. The Tigers have a nearly decade-long streak of postseason appearances, but get a tough draw with the Broncos. Brophy's greatest struggle has been on defense (51 errors). The Broncos finished in the middle of the Section 3 pack behind Horizon, Chaparral and Mesa Mountain View. Brophy posted 89 runs in its final six games and won five of six. The Broncos finished with a 4-3 loss to Horizon. Winner plays at No. 6 Mountain Pointe.
No. 23 Valley Vista (23-10) at No. 10 Desert Vista (18-9): Valley Vista won its last four games and on the final day of the season was able to move from #25 to #23 to qualify. A victory over Sunnyslope on Wednesday sealed the postseason berth. Desert Vista struggled the final two weeks and fell from the top 8 to No. 10. The Thunder lost four of their last six games and have not played since April 26. The playoff game will be its first game action in seven days. Winner plays at No. 7 Pinnacle.
No. 18 Tolleson (21-7) at No. 15 Corona del Sol (16-10): Tolleson lasted three games in the playoffs last year as a top-8 seed. It was eliminated by Corona del Sol. Corona snuck in as No. 24 last year, played five games going 3-2 and advanced to the double-elimination round as the lowest seed. Both teams have been steady this season. Corona had one three-game losing streak and has been routed in a game just once. The win over Desert Vista last week at Chase Field was one of the better triumphs this year for the Aztecs. Tolleson won its Section (4) and dealt Hamilton one of its three losses. Winner plays at No. 2 Chaparral.