When Scottsdale Chaparral baseball coach Sam Messina is asked about how he feels heading into his team’s third consecutive title game tonight, the response is simple.
“Tired,” Messina said.
No. 10 Chaparral enters the Division I state-championship game against No. 1 Scottsdale Desert Mountain at 7 p.m. Tuesday night at Tempe Diablo Stadium having put together one of the odder and more exhausting title defenses in recent memory.
Chaparral (23-13) has faced elimination in six of the seven state games it has played in 2013.
It has come from behind to win for four of its six victories, including scoring nine runs in the top of the seventh to erase a 16-9 deficit to beat No. 9 Goodyear Millennium in the second round.
In Chaparral’s other two state wins, it broke open a scoreless game in the seventh on Michael Diamond’s solo homer to beat No. 4 Phoenix Pinnacle, and survived blowing a three-run lead to clip No. 4 Tucson in extra innings on Saturday to make the title game.
No wonder Messina is pooped.
“It’s happening so fast that they probably really haven’t had a chance to reflect back on what’s happening,” Messina said.
That grind has taken a toll on Chaparral’s pitching. The longest outing a Chaparral hurler has given Messina during the playoffs was the 5 2/3 innings Spencer Gilbert provided against No. 22 Phoenix Desert Vista. No one else has made it past five innings, but Chaparral keeps winning.
Another defending champion, Phoenix Sunnyslope, has been on a roll, too, but without the pitching drama. In fact, the reigning Division II king hasn’t had much drama at all.
Fifth-seeded Sunnyslope (28-4-1) have played just one game with its back against the wall, beating No. 12 Scottsdale Saguaro by 10 in the single-elimination second round. Since then, Sunnyslope has been cruising through the winners bracket, with its closest shave being a three-run win over No. 4 Tucson Sahuaro.
It’s 7 p.m. date with No. 3 Scottsdale Notre Dame at Camelback Ranch might be its first true test of the playoffs. Sunnyslope coach Jeff Shillington insists his team is prepared.
“With these teams and these situations, everyone’s a championship-caliber team,” Shillington said. “The scoreboards may not reflect the intensity of the game, but I can tell you every game we played felt tight and close up until the end.”
Unlike Chaparral, Sunnyslope will have the benefit of a fresh pitching. Senior Cody Bergkamp (1.40 ERA) will start the game, while Calvin Lebrun (2.64) will be available in relief if needed.
It’s a nice luxury, considering Notre Dame will throw top pitcher Austin Schnabel.
“It’s nice to have that option,” Shillington said. “It’s much better to be in that situation than to be on the other side where you only have one guy.”