AZ teams fail to make finals of Big League Dugout Invite

Some of the top high school baseball teams in Arizona were in the field for this year’s Big League Dugout National Invitational Tournament.  Four of them had top-10 AIA power rankings.

But it was Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, No. 20 in the power rankings, that was the lone Arizona squad reaching yesterday’s semi-finals in a prestigious event that Arizona schools have ruled in the past.

In the end, it was a Utah team taking on a Nevada team for the tourney championship, as the host, Horizon High School in Scottsdale, was left to watch as the game unfolded on their home field.

Spanish Fork, a nationally-ranked team from Utah, upset the No. 1 team in the nation, Bishop Gorman from Las Vegas.  The 3-2 victory came about in a very undramatic way, on a passed ball that scored the winning run in the sixth inning.

Corona del Sol rolled into the semis following three straight wins that began with a 5-4 win Monday over Libertyville HS from Illinois.  They beat Columbine HS (Colorado) on Tuesday, and then were matched up against another Scottsdale team, Chaparral High School – which they won 5-3.

The Aztecs lost to Bishop Gorman, 2-5, to give the Gaels their failed title shot.

The loss to Corona del Sol was the only game dropped by Chaparral, which is the No. 1 ranked team in 5A-II, based on power points.  The Firebirds outscored their three other opponents by a combined 31-12 runs, including a 10-0 shutout in their opening game with Columbine.

This year’s field of Arizona schools also included Horizon HS (No. 8 in 5A-II), Brophy Prep (No. 6 in 5A-I), and Hamilton High School (No. 7 in 5A-I) – mixed in with six top schools from California, Utah, Nevada, Illinois, and Colorado.  The event is recognized as one of the top high school baseball tournaments in the country.

The fact that no team made it undefeated through the four-day event is evidence of the quality of competition this year.

The tournament was the idea of Horizon HS coach, Eric Kibler, who started it 13 years ago.  Today, the other Arizona schools share in hosting games at their various fields around the Valley, with Horizon hosting the championship game.

Horizon HS, which lost its senior ace pitcher Jordan Dunatov just prior to the tournament, went 3-1, losing its only game in a 7-5 decision to eventual champion, Spanish Fork.

Hamilton HS won last year’s tourney by beating Rocky Mountain HS from Colorado, 7-6, in spectacular fashion with a two-run homer from Jorge Flores.  The Huskies were ranked in the top 15 nationally at that time and wrapped up their first-ever title in the Invitational.

Hamilton’s only loss in this year’s tourney was almost an upset of No. 1 Bishop Gorman.

The Huskies jumped on the Gaels right out of the box with a two-run homer by Mitch Nay in the first inning.  And there were plenty more scoring opportunities, like the third inning when they had bases loaded, and the fourth when a runner was called out at home.

But the Gaels had a man on base in the bottom of the seventh when T.J. White drilled a two-run home run to finalize the 4-3 Gorman win.

Brophy, which took third last year, went 2-1 and weren’t in contention for the finals this time around.

The Broncos beat Regis Jesuit from Colorado, 6-2, in their third game of the tourney, but it was their opening win that was most impressive.  The small Catholic school from central Phoenix won their opener against La Jolla Country Day, 8-1, by scattering runs over four different innings.

It was particularly impressive since the Torreys came into the game undefeated.  But Brophy’s starting pitcher, Sean Maxon-Maldonado, allowed just one run in six innings to secure the win and give the Broncos an early confidence boost.

However, the euphoria faded in the next game, when the Broncos let a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning slip away and the Harvard-Westlake Wolverines from North Hollywood, Calif., rallied to a 7-5 victory.

Arizona schools have won three-quarters of the tournament titles since the event began.  But this year, those teams will have to settle for getting some good competition.

But no trophy.