Playoffs begin: 14 high schools bid for dual diamond titles

An interesting sidebar to this year’s Division I baseball and softball state playoffs involves a surprisingly high number of high schools that have at least a chance to sweep both titles.

Of the three major sports, the chances of having solid boys and girls programs can generally be found on the diamond.  Football, of course, offers no chance for comparison and basketball is an up-and-down proposition, with schools seldom putting two dominant programs on the court at the same time.

But take it to the ball diamond and that changes.

There are 14 schools that have a chance this year to sweep both baseball and softball titles.  And, thanks to the parity that has been a part of both seasons this year, there are several in that group that could pull it off.

Of course, there are those schools that are just happy to be playing in the post-season and have little chance of getting one team through the state tournament for a shot at the title, much less both of them.

Sunnyside High School in Tucson, for example, has a baseball team that is seeded No. 23 and a softball entry seeded No. 24.   Both of the teams from Desert Vista High in Phoenix are seeded at No. 20 and both from Mesa Mountain View High School enter at No. 18.

Not a lot of sweep potential there.

However, there are four schools that have the best chance to pull it off.  Out of those eight teams, four of them have a first-round bye, so they’re off to a good start.

Probably the best shot goes to Pinnacle High School in north Phoenix, where the school’s softball team finished the regular season ranked No. 4 by The Arizona Republic, and the baseball team came in at No. 6.

The baseball team was the top seed in the state tournament, which means it will get a bye in today’s round and then play the winner of the game between No. 16-seed Cienega High School and No. 17 Valley Vista High.

Pinnacle baseball (16-11) has three hitters in the lineup that are batting over .400:  M.J. Hubbs (.429), Bryce Colceri (.432), and Tyler Townsley (.418).  Townsley also has 20 home runs this season.  The squad has a full head of steam going into the state tournament, coming off eight straight wins.

The softball team (20-12) was given a No. 10 seeding, which offers an immediate advantage, since that puts them up against 20th-seeded Desert Vista in the first round.  However, it gets tricky if they get past that one; the winner takes on No. 4-ranked Gilbert High, the No. 8 seed.

And that may present the biggest obstacle for a Pinnacle sweep, since the Gilbert Tigers are considered one of the favorites to win it all.  The 26-5 Tigers are hitting .377 as a team and have a couple of strong youngsters on the mound in freshman Lynsey Duncan and sophomore Taylor McCord.

But Pinnacle is an outstanding defensive team and is also potent at the plate, with a .382 team batting average.

Perhaps the next-best chance for a sweep comes from a couple of teams seeded in the middle of the pack.  The Desert Mountain High School baseball team is seeded No. 7 and softball is No. 9.

But the Wolves’ baseball team earned a No. 7 ranking by season’s end, completing a 20-win season.  And they beat a couple of teams above them, No. 6 Pinnacle and No. 4 Chaparral, and also posted a win over No. 10 Desert Ridge.

The softball team finished the season in a three-way tie for the No. 10 spot in the rankings, but posted an impressive 23-8 record and goes into the playoffs hitting a team average . 379 – but with a slugging percentage of .550.  But they’re a streaky team, putting together four and five wins at a time all season long; they just need another streak to get the job done here.

A couple of other East Valley schools might be the other two considerations for sweeping a couple of titles.

Red Mountain High School (30-3) has a softball team ranked No. 1 and projected as the likely title winner this season – as long as the defending state champion Mountain Lions can get past the tournament’s top seed Basha High School in Chandler.

One of the state’s strongest pitching tandems, Breana Macha and Siera Phillips, should enable the Lions’ softball team to go deep into the tournament.  The sophomore Macha sports a 1.24 ERA and has a .868 slugging percentage to go with it, while Phillips, the senior, carries a 1.44 ERA and a .618 slugging percentage.

The Red Mountain baseball team finished with a 20-8 record, just out of the top-10 rankings.  The Lions, who finished the regular season with a seven-game win streak, will likely get past No. 22-seeded Centennial High in the first round, but will face the No. 6 seed, Gilberts’s Mesquite High on Tuesday.

Chaparral High School rounds out the potential sweep schools.  The Firebirds have a red-hot baseball squad that is 23-7 and ranked No. 4 in Division I, and just set a new single-season school record for home runs with 43.  Senior outfielder Dylan Cozens also notched a new individual school record with 14 homers.

But Chaparral’s softball squad is the reason a sweep isn’t that good a bet here.  The girls are a 20-11 squad that finished the season out of the top 10 and were just good enough to earn a No. 14 seed in the state tourney.

They drew No. 19 Chandler High in the first round, but will likely be faced with an early exit on Tuesday when they meet up with the third-seeded Xavier Prep Gators, who finished the regular season 25-4 and ranked No. 6 in Division I.

Lots of softball and baseball to be played yet.  The first two rounds are single elimination, with competition moving to double elimination after that.

And it probably won’t take long for these 14 schools to be down to one representative… or maybe none at all.

But, in the meantime, it’s fun to think about the possibilities.