No such thing as sleeper in Division I state baseball tournament

No such thing as sleeper in Division I state baseball tournament


No such thing as sleeper in Division I state baseball tournament


In the first year for a new format for the Division I state baseball tournament, there weren’t many upsets in 2012.

The top eight teams that received first-round byes all won the only single-elimination game they played, advancing to the double-elimination portion of the tournament.

Repeating that feat will be a whole lot more difficult in 2013. This year, the teams ranked 9-16 may be every bit as tough, as a whole, as the teams ranked in the eight spots above them.

“There are teams that are going to be 12-6, 10-8 not getting in this year,” Gilbert Mesquite coach Jeff Holland said. “It’s been really weird. There are going to be some good teams left out. Not that other teams shouldn’t be in there. Just how the schedule is this year, it’s been really different, the parity of everybody.”

Playing on the first weekend will be such powerful programs like defending champion Scottsdale Chaparral at No. 10 and 2012 runner-up Phoenix Brophy at No. 11. In fact, every Class 5A-Division I champion or runner up since 2006 — with the exception of No. 3 Mesa Desert Ridge, the 2010 champion — will be playing in the first round.

That’s a lot of winning pedigree.

“There are a lot of quality teams,” said Brian Stephenson, coach of top-ranked Scottsdale Desert Mountain. “They’re tested and been there and teams that have won state championships that are in the field and coaches that have won multiple state championships.”

A double-digit seed hasn’t made the state finals since 2009, when Chandler Hamilton finished as state runner-up as a No. 15 seed. Here’s a closer look at the teams most likely to go from first round to the final eight.

No. 9 Hamilton

Ironically, with the injuries Hamilton has suffered to its pitching staff in the last year — losing top pitchers Patrick Murphy and Sean Rackoski — it’s the hitting that has troubled the Huskies (21-6). Since going 3-1 at the National High School Invite in North Carolina a month ago, Hamilton has scored double-digit runs just three times in 13 games.

“We haven’t pounded the ball by any stretch of the imagination,” coach Mike Woods said. “We’ve hit a lot of balls at people, too.”

But what carries a team to a deep playoff run is pitching, and Hamilton is loaded with that even without Murphy and Rackoski. Counting on veterans Tyler Erwin and Cody Bellinger to take on bigger roles on the mound, the Huskies haven’t allowed more than six runs in a game all season. Hamilton’s team ERA is under 2.00, Woods said.

As for the offense, that will come around, and woe be the team against whom it sparks.

“You kidding me, Hamilton’s out of the top eight?” Mesa Desert Ridge coach Patrick Herrera said. “You don’t want to play Hamilton.”

No. 10 Chaparral

A day before the state bracket was revealed, Chaparral (17-12) was sitting — precariously, it turned out — in the No. 8 spot and in line for a first-round bye. Then the Firebirds lost 4-1 to Phoenix Horizon in their season finale.

Chaparral’s season has been up-and-down after losing much of its 2012 title team to graduation, but behind stud pitcher and slugger Dillon Jackson-Bigcrane, the Firebirds have rebounded enough to be a tough out in the playoffs.

“We had a lot of inexperience early,” coach Sam Messina said. “Since then, kids have started to develop.”

A different kind of experience will help Chaparral if it advances past its first-round matchup against No. 28 Chandler Basha. The Firebirds have played six of the nine teams ranked ahead of them, their potential second-round opponent No. 7 Goodyear Millennium, a team it beat 6-3 in the regular season.

Chaparral has also played No. 1 Scottsdale Desert Mountain, No. 2 Tucson, No. 3 Mesa Desert Ridge, No. 4 Phoenix Pinnacle and No. 5 Tolleson. Messina thinks that gives his squad a leg up.

“We’ve had the advantage,” he said. “I’ve seen them.”

No. 11 Brophy

The Broncos (19-9) have proven to be the equal of Chaparral and Hamilton, winning games against both, and of rival Phoenix St. Mary’s, which is ranked eighth.

“We’ve seen Brophy twice this week, and that’s a heck of a club,” Messina said.

The Broncos will go as far as junior Ryan Castellani takes them. Castellani leads the team with a .390 average and six home runs, and also has a team-best 2.10 ERA and 55 strikeouts.

No. 12 Gilbert

If Gilbert (20-8) is known for anything this season, it’s swinging the bats. The Tigers’ 41 home runs leads Division I, led by Jack Zoellner (11), Dustin Peterson (10) and Josh Moore (nine).

“You want to play Gilbert in the first round?” Herrera said. “I don’t.”

If Gilbert gets hot enough, it can beat anyone. But the Tigers can also go blank, like they did in a 10-0 shutout to Basha to close to season.

But that won’t happen often, and there aren’t any super-pitchers in this year’s field.

“I don’t think there’s the dominant pitcher that there has been in the past,” Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor coach Jeff Baumgartner said.

No. 13 Gilbert Mesquite

The lowest-ranked team on this list is also possibly the hottest. The Wildcats (20-8) closed the season with a 5-1 loss to Tempe McClintock but won nine in a row before that, downing playoff squads like Basha, Gilbert, Tempe Corona del Sol and Hamilton (twice).

“The chemistry of the team is one of the best I’ve ever had,” coach Jeff Holland said.

The thing is, it’s hard to explain why Mesquite has been so hot. It’s team batting average of .307 isn’t particularly special, nor is its 3.57 team ERA.

But the Wildcats have been filling a different stat sheet — the win column.

“You don’t want to meet them early in the state tournament, I’ll tell you that,” Woods said.


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