Contrary to popular belief, Scottsdale Horizon pitcher Tim Alderson doesn’t win every time he deals. His pregame ritual with teammate Ryan Schwenn is evidence.
“They do the rock-paper-scissors thing before each game,” Horizon coach Eric Kibler said. “Tim’s losing at that. He doesn’t think he is, but he is.”
That’s a far cry from what Alderson and pitching teammate Kevin Rhoderick have been doing on the mound this season. The pair have combined for a 14-1 record and minuscule ERAs for the second-ranked Huskies.
Add in a summer of touring with high school all-star teams, spots on the U.S. Junior Olympic team, being listed in Baseball America’s top 100 high school players, and radar guns clocking them in the low 90s, and it’s easy to see why the pair has garnered attention that goes well beyond the norm.
“Last year, it was mostly college coaches,” Rhoderick said of the audience generally seated behind home plate. “This year, there are more, and they are pro scouts.”
Rhoderick admits their presence adds pressure.
“It’s better than not getting any attention,” Rhoderick said.
Sometimes the throng of scouts is nearly equal to the crowd a typical high school game attracts.
“We’ve had some pitchers here in the past that have been just as good, but having two at the same time is something a coach gets maybe once in a lifetime,” Kibler said.
“It’s been a circus-type atmosphere a lot of times, but I think they and our team have handled it well. They’ve been able to keep it all in perspective.”
The statistics bear that out. Alderson is 9-0 with a 1.37 ERA after four innings of work and one run allowed in an 11-1 win over Gilbert Highland on Wednesday. Rhoderick totes a 5-1 record, a 1.07 ERA and leads East Valley 5A pitchers with 74 strikeouts; Alderson is second with 71.
The Huskies have two regular-season games remaining next week with Phoenix Shadow Mountain before opening the 5A Division I state tournament April 28. Horizon won the state title two years ago when the pair were sophomores. Last year, they had to admire a runner-up trophy.
Both pitchers said they’ve been more focused this year after falling short of their goal. The result is a 24-3 team record and the top spot in the latest power rankings.
But Kibler said the reasons for their success extend beyond simple focus.
“Last year, they didn’t really have command of a change-up and now they do,” Kibler said. “They’ve always been so reliant on the slider or fastball but with the change-up now, it makes them much better.”
Rhoderick enjoyed a 15-strikeout shutout of Chandler Hamilton on March 23, a performance Kibler termed “electric.”
Two weeks later, after two losses to top-ranked Phoenix Brophy in less than a week, Alderson was called on to even their two-game region series. Horizon’s bats got going midway through the game and so did Alderson on the way to a 9-3 win. Alderson fanned 11 against a Brophy lineup in which more than half the players are headed to Division I schools.
With the extra focus on pitching, Alderson and Rhoderick’s batting averages are down this season. Both are hitting under .400, but their run production is 1-2 on the team (Alderson has 29 RBIs and Rhoderick 27). They try not to change their approach whether they are pitching or playing the field.
“I’m superstitious,” said Alderson, who has signed to play at defending national champion Oregon State next season. “On days I pitch I go home and eat a tuna sandwich. Then I take a nap. When I go back to school I eat a banana in my car. Then I go sit in the (Horizon) stands and drink a Red Bull. Then I throw my banana peel into the same garbage can.”
Added Rhoderick: “Our team is so superstitious, it’s out of control. If we see someone doing something they normally don’t do, we say something.”
One thing Alderson and Rhoderick want to change is the ultimate outcome of this season compared to last. Playing in the state title game is good, but winning it tastes much sweeter.
“The chemistry this year is awesome, it’s like our sophomore year,” said Rhoderick, who signed to play at Georgia next season.
“That’s how we want this year to end up.”