Two of the more high-profile baseball rivals in Division I used tournament play over the past week to show why they could find themselves playing each other for a state title this year.
Sandra Day O’Connor High School and Mountain Ridge High are separated by just a few miles along the Happy Valley Road corridor in far north Phoenix. That proximity has created a simmering rivalry over the years for ‘neighborhood’ bragging rights.
Both of the schools’ baseball teams are having a good season, with just seven losses between them over their combined 34 games. And both appear to be peaking at the right time. O’Connor is riding a 16-game winning streak and the Ridge has won 11 out of their last 12.
Mountain Ridge flexed its muscle by winning the American Division title at the Coach Bob Invitational a week ago and then traveling to California to win the prestigious National Baseball Classic that was played at Cal State Fullerton.
The title win at the Coach Bob, a 5-4 victory over Redlands East Valley, helped the Ridge bounce back from a couple of losses to its other division rival, Boulder Creek, a week earlier. But it was the 16-team Classic, in which it was one of just two outside-California teams included in the invitation-only tournament, that set the table for the remaining 10 games down the home stretch of the 2016 schedule.
The Ridge beat four California teams in the NBC, capping it off with a 7-1 title victory over El Toro High.
Not only did the Mountain Lions become the first Arizona team to win the elite event, they also took home the tourney’s top individual honors. Tommy Lowe was named Outstanding Pitcher of the tournament, outfielder Trent Turner collected the Outstanding Hitter award, and pitcher/catcher Matthew Dyer earned MVP recognition.
This is the 26th year for the event and Mountain Ridge just became the first school to claim all three individual awards.
After Mountain Ridge finished their run to the American Division title at the Coach Bob, O’Connor went to work in the National division, the tourney’s top bracket.
The Coach Bob Invitational is hosted by Boulder Creek High School in Anthem and named after Bob Weinheimer, who coached the game for 44 years and was an assistant at Boulder Creek from 2004-2011. It draws teams from around the country and has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years.
In 2010 there were 39 schools from nine states participating. By 2012, it almost doubled to 73 teams. And this year, there were 114 teams from 14 states.
The last couple of years have not been kind to the Arizona schools. There were no in-state winners in any division last year, and the year before it was a team from Fayetteville, AK, that won the National division title.
But this year, O’Connor High returns to the top of the hill. The Eagles won it all in 2013, following a two-year reign by Boulder Creek.
In order to wrap up this year’s title, O’Connor had to dig its way out of a 4-1 hole and then hold off a rally by Boulder Creek in the final inning to secure the 9-6 win. It took a home run by Nico Burgarello and a three-run rally in the fourth, fueled by a double by Nolan Gorman and a RBI single from Trey Patnoe, to re-take the lead at 5-4.
Boulder Creek was able to regain the lead in the fifth, thanks to a pair of doubles by Carter Lay and Zach Baptist. But O’Connor was gifted a three-run rally in the top of the seventh, courtesy of three walks and a hit batter.
Boulder had one last chance in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases with just one out. But the Jaguars’ lanky senior closer, Dawson McCarville, worked his way out of the jam by getting the final Boulder batter to hit into a double play.
Boulder Creek will get a chance for revenge when it meets O’Connor for back-to-back games in the final week on the schedule.