There's so much pitching to go around this season that defense is likely going to be the difference maker in who takes home the Division I state baseball title in two weeks.
The top eight seeds all have solid pitching. Their staffs are well rested thanks to a first-round bye regardless of who they decide to throw in second-round games on Tuesday (May 6). . The teams that buckle up in the field — make the routine plays and perhaps a few extraordinary ones — well expect them to be battling the final four or five days of the tournament. No team comes in exceptionally hot with a a handful of teams with three- or four-game winnnig streaks intact.
After Tuesday all games will be played at neutral sites — Tempe Diablo Stadium or Maryvale Baseball Stadium. Dates are May 8, 10, 13, 15, 17 with the final on May 20.
Here's a look at the top-eight seeds and who they'll face in the last single-elimination round of the tourney on Tuesday. The eight teams that advance to Thursday can relax knowing one loss going forward isn't terminal.
NO. 1 HAMILTON (25-3): The top-seeded Huskies look good on paper and catch one's eye when their in action. Hamilton sports six pitchers with ERA's 3.00 or under. Its top three are junior Zach Pederson (10-0, 2.71), senior Kent Hasler (6-1, 1.59) and sophomore Zane Strand (5-0, 3.00). The team has committed 29 errors, one per game and hits .385 as a team. As tough a lineup 1-9 as there is. Shortstop Austin Filiere (.494, HR and 24 RBI), first baseman Jake Boston (.444, 5 HR, 28 RBI) and outfielder Ryan Peep (.406, 6 HR, 27 RBI) are the leaders. Peep returned to the lineup last week after missed six games due to injury. Hamilton is 9-1 against teams left in the playoff field. Only loss was to Horizon. Second-round opponent — No. 17 Chandler. Chandler advanced beating Highland, 10-1.
NO. 2 CHAPARRAL (24-4): Chaparral coach Sam Messina has another formidable club — pitching and hitting. Four pitchers with 25 to 40 innings figure to be strong and ready for postseason. Andrew Shaps, Colin Gabel, Kyle Palmer and Spencer Gilbert all have ERA's below 2.00 and the team ERA is 1.59. The Firebirds haven't been sterling in the field with 47 errors. Marshall Forest, Gage Hampton, Tanner Bollig and Shaps are batting.400 or better. Chaparral closed the season with a 1-0 win and a 2-1 loss. Expect a lot of games like that this postseason. Chaparral is 6-2 against teams left in the playoff field. Second-round opponent — No. 15 Corona del Sol. Corona del Sol advanced beating Tolleson, 5-4.
NO. 3 HORIZON (24-5): Horizon won't bludgeon opponents offensively, but the Huskies don't need to. With a staff ERA of 1.45, five pitchers of note with sub-2 ERAs and a defense much like Hamilton's (30 errors). Eric Kibler's squad rarely beats itself. A nice quality to have any time, especially in postseason. Third baseman Matt Kroon carries a potent bat (.387, 3 HR, 23 RBI) plays great defense along with Joey Bristyan on the left side at shortstop. Horizon is 4-3 against teams left in the playoff field. Second-round opponent — No. 14 Sunnyslope. Sunnyslope advanced beating Perry, 10-4.
NO. 4 DESERT RIDGE (21-7): Bryan Rice has Desert Ridge playing quite well, anchored by a few holdovers from last year. Up the middle the Jaguars are strong defensively and offensively with Cam Richins (.427 average) and Ian Raidy. Desert Ridge hasn't scored an inordinate amount of runs with a staff ERA of 2.82 led by Caleb Rodriguez and Dylan Cook. Defense is a strength with only 29 errors on the season so they can flash the leather with Hamilton and Horizon. Desert Ridge is 9-4 against teams left in the playoff field. Second-round opponent — No. 20 Liberty. Liberty advanced beating Mountain Ridge, 4-3.
NO. 5 SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR (21-7): The Northwest Valley isn't short on pitching either. Far from it, particularly at SDO. Cameron Ming (6-3, 1.35), Corey Wilson (6-1, 2.40), Tanner Baker (4-0, 1.59) and Colby Wyatt (2-1, 1.14) are the key to the Eagles' success. Offensively first baseman Degan Harte (.410), Ming (.397) and Greg Saenz (.372) usually help provide enough offense to back the pitching. Sandra Day O' Connor is 4-4 against teams left in the playoff field. Second-round opponent — No. 12 Centennial. Centennial advanced beating Boulder Creek, 5-4.
NO. 6 MOUNTAIN POINTE (16-10): Mountain Pointe has one of the top position playes in the state in shortstop Cole Tucker, but again pitching backed by the defense Tucker provides has kept the Pride in most every game. Seniors Jorge Carrazco, Tristan Chavez and Peyton Holm and junior Gavin Alston give Mountain Pointe a chance to win every time out. Holm is solid in relief with four saves. Mountain Pointe had a tough go the final two to three weeks losing more than it won, but it wasn't blown out in any loss. Mountain Pointe is 2-6 against teams left in the playoff field. Second-round opponent — No. 22 Gilbert. Gilbert advanced beating Brophy, 9-8.
NO. 7 PINNACLE (23-8): Pinnacle relies quite a bit on two arms to get by — sophomore Blake Flint and senior Trevor Colceri. Flint hasn't lost, going 7-0 with a 1.77 ERA. Colceri has faced a few tougher foes than Flint and is 5-4 with a 2.33 ERA. Pinnacle has more errors than any of the top-eight seeds (54) so better results are essential going forward. Kobie Foppe is the Pioneers top hitter at .442 with power provided by outfielder Gerard Hernandez (.355, 9 HR and Jacob Weiss (4 HR, 20 RBI). Pinnacle is 6-5 against teams left in the playoff field. Second-round opponent — No. 23 Valley Vista. Valley Vista advanced beating Desert Vista, 12-7.
NO. 8 MESQUITE (18-10): Coach Jeff Holland has several good arms, but the Wildcats likely will rely heavily in a long postseason on right-hander James Harrington and lefty Matt Heibult. Harrington is 6-0 with a 3.07 ERA and Heibult is 4-2, 2.85. Defense hasn't been as dependable as past years, which has cost the Wildcats some tough losses. The offense's top averages belong to catcher Tyler Pollett (.379), Josh Webster (.356) and Cole Valletta (.326). Valletta and Harrington are the top home-run threats with eight and six, respectively. Mesquite is 5-6 against teams left in the playoff field. Second-round opponent — No. 9 Mesa Mountain View. Mountain View advanced beating Millennium, 6-1.