The Huskies aren’t out of the woods yet. But the trees are beginning to thin at a rapid rate.
As the high school softball season closes out the final stretch of the 2018 season, Hamilton High School is right where it was expected to be when the season started – in first place in 6A, the state’s top conference.
Hamilton is undefeated in conference play at 13-0, but not alone in that accomplishment. Cibola High School, ranked No. 4 in the 6A standings, is sporting a similar record, and Pinnacle High is in third place at 12-2. And three more teams in the top 10 have 11 wins each: No. 6 Corona del Sol HS, No. 7 Red Mountain HS, and No. 8 Basha HS.
But hanging on to that top spot, and being able to carry it through to success in the post-season, may have a little more significance for the Huskies since they’re in the hunt for a third straight state championship. A team that returned most of its starters from a 30-win season last year has had a target on its back since this season began – which makes a three-peat all the more challenging.
With just five games left on the regular-season schedule, it would appear there aren’t too many chances of getting thrown off the road to a perfect conference season. And the Huskies are just one loss shy of a perfect season overall, losing to a California team in early March to leave them with a 24-1 mark.
A game Friday against No. 6 Perry High School (18-5) will be the first potential speed bump, but the final two games on the schedule are also dangerous potholes.
Hamilton plays Basha twice to close out the schedule. The Bears are 16-9 overall and 11-3 in conference play, but just lost back-to-back games to Perry. Hamilton hasn’t played Basha yet this season, but the Huskies shut out Perry, 10-0, just two weeks ago. So it doesn’t look good for Basha’s chances.
While Hamilton has been powering along, averaging a shade over 10 runs per game, its defense has been one of the best in the state. Until last night when Chandler High tagged them for seven runs, only one team had been able to score more than four runs against the Huskies, and that was in a March 2 game against Pinnacle, at a time when Hamilton was the No. 1 team in the country and Pinnacle was ranked No. 2. The Huskies prevailed 12-8.
But the next time the two teams met, Hamilton wasn’t satisfied with a four-run victory. The Huskies wanted to make a statement. Two weeks after the first meeting, they buried Pinnacle in a 19-0 rout in the championship game of the Desert Mountain Invitational.
A key contributor to Hamilton’s defensive dominance has been a pitching staff that goes five deep and includes three seniors. Leading the way is senior Abigail Andersen who is 14-0 and boasts a 1.30 ERA. And an impressive newcomer, freshman Loganne Stepp, has handled most of the remainder of the pitching duties. Stepp has struck out 65 batters in 33 innings in the circle to build a 6-0 record.
Huskies’ pitchers have combined for a dozen shutouts this season.
While the pitching is keeping the lid on opponents’ scoring, Hamilton’s bats are providing plenty of offense that has provided 263 runs so far this season. Six of the regulars in the line-up have batting averages of .500 and above, led by junior Macy Simmons, who leads the team with a .595 average, 48 RBIs, and 12 home runs.
That means there is little fall-off in good hitting down toward the bottom of the order. The Huskies are a dangerous team, top to bottom.
And they’ve been on a scoring tear since mid-March, scoring in double digits in 11 out of the last 12 games. The Huskies are peaking at the right time heading into the playoffs.
For the last two state titles, Hamilton has had to beat Pinnacle in the championship game. And there’s every chance the two teams could find themselves playing for yet another title.
But, as the Pioneers have already learned, this year’s Hamilton team is one they shouldn’t be eager to take on in a re-match.