As the 2017 baseball and softball season winds down in Arizona, a handful of high school teams have managed to leave their mark on the national sports landscape. One of those is ranked No. 2 in the country, another beat the No. 1 team in the country.
The Pinnacle High School softball team has rebounded from a loss in last season’s state championship game to climb the national ladder to No. 2 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national rankings – but is still stymied by the team that beat them out of the 2016 state title.
The Pioneers have won 28 games this season, and lost just one. That loss was a 1-0 pitcher’s duel won by Chandler’s Hamilton High School four weeks ago. The Huskies broke Pinnacle’s 17-game winning streak and evened this year’s series between the two teams after the Pioneers hung on through 11 innings to beat Hamilton, now 23-6, in a March 3 match-up.
Pinnacle will wrap the regular season with games today and tomorrow against Horizon High School, while Hamilton concludes its schedule with a pair of games against Basha High.
A dominating one-two punch in the circle has given Pinnacle the edge throughout the season. Junior Marissa Schuld is 17-0 with an 0.32 ERA and senior CC Cook, who gave up the team’s lone loss to Hamilton, has built an equally impressive 0.86 ERA.
Cibola High School in Yuma is undefeated through 29 games, but has been slotted at No. 22 in the MaxPreps rankings. The Raiders have just one game remaining, against Perry High, to finish unbeaten and are on a wave of momentum going into the state tournament. They’ve beaten their last four opponents by a combined score of 64-5.
On the baseball diamond, Sunrise Mountain High School isn’t ranked – but they showed maybe they should be when they defeated Buchanan High from Clovis, Calif., 10 days ago at the 28th annual National Classic. The Clovis squad is the MaxPreps 2016 national champion and was ranked No. 1 this season when the Mustangs stunned them, 11-7, in the Classic.
Buchanan is a power again this season and Sunrise Mountain became just the second team to win a game against them in both seasons – and the first team this season to score more than four runs on the Bears. Sunrise Mountain, which has a .367 team batting average led by senior first baseman Kody Decker’s .491, piled up 13 hits against Buchanan.
The win over Buchanan was just the icing on the cake for the Pinnacle program. Two games prior to that victory, the squad gift-wrapped the 400th career win for its head coach, Eric Gardner, who has been directing the baseball program at the Peoria school for the past 19 years.
One other Arizona school made the MaxPreps national rankings. Scottsdale’s Horizon High, which is on a six-game winning streak with three games left to play in the regular season, is ranked No. 17 by MaxPreps.
Horizon has used a deep pitching staff that features 14 throwers who have seen time on the mound this season to build a 22-3-1 record. Cade Stanley, the 6’5″ senior right-hander, leads the pack with a 7-1 record and .875 winning percentage.
But Sunrise Mountain is on a mission and its head coach feels this team gives the school its best chance during his 19 seasons to bring home a state title. Gardner has called this squad “one of the greatest” he has coached at Sunrise. It has both solid pitching and power at the plate.
Gardner has taken teams to the championship game three different seasons, falling short each time.
This time, he might have his best shot yet at a title.
And none too soon. That monkey on his back has to be getting very heavy.