This year’s high school playoffs to decide a 6A state champion in baseball were, to say the least, full of surprises.
Defending champion Hamilton High School lost twice in the third round to squash their attempt to make it three in a row. The Huskies were caught between two mountains. They lost first to Mountain Ridge HS and then to Mountain View (Mesa).
But Hamilton had already beaten Mountain View, the tourney’s top seed, in the second round when Hamilton nearly shut them out in a 7-1 rout. So that put the No. 1 seed in jeopardy of being eliminated early.
Mountain View regained its composure and made it to the semifinals, where the Toros lost to Mountain Ridge, 9-1. But only after beating the Ridge, 7-1, the day before. Go figure.
When the dust settled, a No. 5 seed was facing off against a No. 7 seed in Tuesday’s championship game at Diablo Stadium in Tempe.
However, that match-up turned out to be a prime-time grudge match between two west-side rivals: Mountain Ridge, the No. 5 seed, and Sandra Day O’Connor High School. That rivalry is one of the biggest in any sport, which was obvious by the size of the crowd that showed up – 4,286 fans.
The game had little suspense, since O’Connor began to pull away from a 1-1 tie with three runs in the fourth inning, followed by three more in the sixth as the Eagles pulled away for the 7-1 victory.
But it had a lot of significance. The O’Connor victory brought home the school’s first-ever state title in baseball.
And the Eagles (22-10) pulled it off with a freshman on the mound. Barrett Skaugrud posted a 5-1 record in the regular season and was successful in his first and only post-season start when O’Connor beat Westwood High in the second game of the state tourney. He allowed nine hits, struck out eight, and gave up zero walks to keep a lid on the Mountain Ridge offense.
The Lions (21-11-1) would surely have countered with their senior ace, Matthew Liberatore, but the 6’5″ left-hander had exhausted his availability since the required four days had not passed since his last outing, when he pitched in the semifinal win over Mountain View. Liberatore won eight of his nine starts and had posted a 0.93 ERA.
So senior righty Mitchael Dyer got the start and became just one of three pitchers that worked in vain to pull out the title win. The trio allowed seven hits, but suffered from control problems, issuing 10 free passes to first base that included a couple of hit batters.
Mountain Ridge had to be just as hungry as its long-time rival since it was also vying to bring home the Glendale school’s first baseball title. The Mountain Lions made it to the title game one other time, but fell victim to Hamilton when the Huskies won their first of two back-to-back titles in 2016.
It took O’Connor coach, Jeff Baumgartner, 16 years to lead the Eagles to their first state title.
Artie Cox is in just his first season as head coach at Mountain Ridge. Plenty of time left to bring one back to Glendale.