Whether it’s baseball or softball, the overriding theme in tomorrow’s Division I high school state championship games has to be the old familiar David vs. Goliath comparison.
The top-seeded Hamilton High Huskies have played in three state finals over the last 10 years or so, and won three state baseball championships. They await the improbable challenge from Mesquite High School, an eight seed that has yet to win its first state title in the sport.
On the girls’ side, No. 2 Red Mountain High School will try to fend off a challenge from No. 4 Mountain Ridge High School, the only undefeated team left in the tournament, as Red Mountain goes for its fifth straight softball title, which would set a new state record. And like Mesquite’s baseball team, Mountain Ridge softball is also looking for its first state championship – although the Glendale school has been tantalizingly close, finishing a game out of the finals twice in the last four years.
The only thing these two schools have in common is their mascot; both use the Mountain Lion.
Actually, the nickname isn’t the only thing. Both teams came into the play-offs with 24 wins on the season. But Mesa’s Red Mountain finished the regular season on a roll, winning 13 of its final 14 games, while Mountain Ridge closed out by winning just three of its last six games.
Red Mountain will rely heavily on the arm of its lanky right-hander, Bre Macha, who pitched the Lions to its last three state titles and is motivated with the possibility of closing out a high-school career with four championships, putting her in rare company. The Arizona State-commit posted a 0.95 ERA for the regular season and is one of three returning seniors who were on all three title teams.
By contrast, Mountain Ridge counts on being able to score, and do it often. During the regular season, they averaged nine runs a game and put 17 runs on the scoreboard in their three tournament games, including a 4-3 win over No. 1 seed Gilbert High and a 9-2 rout of No. 5 Hamilton.
Mountain Ridge earned its way into the finals by scoring three runs in the first inning of the semi-finals and holding on to beat Chaparral, 4-1. Sophomore hurler Giselle Juarez was effective in limiting the Firebirds to four hits.
Two days later, Red Mountain punched its ticket to the finals match-up with Mountain Ridge by taking out revenge on Chaparral, which beat the Mountain Lions in the first game of the playoffs to drop them to the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination tourney. The Lions found themselves in a 2-0 hole early, but managed to pull out a 3-2 victory.
On the baseball diamond, Hamilton is the top seed for the tournament, but hasn’t exactly been blowing away the competition. Three of the Huskies’ wins were by one run, and in the other game No. 20 seed Liberty High held them to four runs.
But Hamilton (29-3) relys on a deep pitching staff that has allowed opponents just three runs combined in getting to the finals. The Huskies carry a pitching roster that includes six pitchers with a 3.00 ERA or better. It was one of those, senior Kent Hasler, that held Chaparral to six scattered hits in the semi-final game that Hamilton won, 3-2, by holding off a seventh-inning rally by the Firebirds.
Hamilton won back-to-back state titles in 2003 and 2004, but its last crown was won six years ago. Mesquite is the only team standing in the way of getting back to the top of the heap – and the Huskies will feed off the confidence that comes with having beaten Mesquite in the tournament opener, 2-1.
But let’s not forget that Mesquite has already beaten No. 3 Horizon High and No. 2 Chaparral on the road to the finals. The Wildcats had to beat Chaparral in Saturday night’s semi-final game and did so with a 5-2 victory behind the pitching of senior right-hander James Harrington‘s complete game that elevates his season record to 8-1.
Mesquite can also come at opponents from the other side of the mound, using left-hander Matt Heibult when the need arises. And at the plate, the Wildcats do have some long-ball capability in Harrington (six home runs) and Cole Valletta (eight homers).
But beyond the physical stats, there’s another reason to give Mesquite some props in Tuesday’s game. It was Hamilton that beat the Wildcats in the 2008 championship game.
Mesquite is eager to return the favor now that they have another opportunity.
First pitch will fly at 7:30 tomorrow night at Salt River Fields.