Owing to its more time-consuming double-elimination format, the 5A baseball state playoffs begin Saturday and continue until two state champions are determined May 15.
Three teams from north Glendale and Peoria earned playoff berths. Here’s a look at who they’ll face, and how they got there:
MOUNTAIN RIDGE MOUNTAIN LIONS
RECORD: 18-10, 11-3 Northwest Region (Co-champion)
RANK: No. 9 seed 5A-I. Visits No. 8 Tucson Salpointe at 11 a.m. Saturday.
TOP PLAYERS: Senior P/3B Cody Gray (.397, 6 HR, 20 RBI. Also team’s No. 1 starter.) Senior C Tanner Murphy (.350, 5 HR, 28 RBI) Junior INF Joe Brinkman (.333, 3 HR, 22 RBI) Junior 1B Daniel Will (.370, 3 HR, 20 RBI)
SEASON REVIEW: With three experienced players returning, the Mountain Lions spent most of March figuring out roles and enduring growing pains. A 3-2 home loss to Valley Vista March 23 dropped Mountain Ridge to 6-9 overall and 0-2 in region play. Since then, the Mountain Lions have won 12 of 13 games thanks to improved offensive production and pitching depth. More importantly, coach Tommy Eubanks said, they’ve put aside indiviual goals.
“They haven’t given up. They’ve really come together and quit caring just about themselves. It’s about the team, and what’s best for the team,” Eubanks said.
PLAYOFF PREVIEW: Chandler Hamilton and Mesa Desert Ridge are the 5A-I heavyweights, with Gilbert Mesquite and Gilbert just behind. The rest of the field is as unpredictable as Eubanks has ever seen. Mountain Ridge is one of several potential spoilers, having played only Mesquite — and the Mountain Ridge team of that 10-0 loss was far different than the one entering the playoffs.
“The playoffs are so strange this year. The typical teams that are in might not be — Corona del Sol, Desert Vista and Chandler. Those are three teams that are mainstays,” Eubanks said. “North Canyon was No. 2 or 3. It’s been kind of crazy as far as that goes.”
DEER VALLEY SKYHAWKS
RECORD: 14-14, 11-3 Northwest Region (Co-champion)
RANK: No. 6 seed in 5A-II. Plays host to No. 11 seed Centennial at 11 a.m. Saturday.
TOP PLAYERS (All stats in region play only): Senior P/CF Jacob Doyle (.508, 2 HR, 13 RBI. 6-1, 1.89 ERA, 65 K in 47 innings) Senior C Kyle Herrington (.547, 5 HR, 25 RBI) Junior SS/P Darian Ramage (.462, 14 RBI, 4-2, 3.63 ERA) Junior 1B Andrew Nicholas (.373, 2 HR, 18 RBI)
SEASON REVIEW: Deer Valley started even more slowly than Mountain Ridge, going 3-11 in non-league and tournament games, including a disastrous Best of the West tournament. However, the Skyhawks responded by winning their first six region games. Doyle is capable of shutting down any team in his starts. He and Herrington anchor the middle of the lineup. The rest of the squad is usually good at manufacturing runs and playing defense.
PLAYOFF PREVIEW: The Desert Valley big four (Scottsdale Chaparral, Scottsdale Desert Mountain, Phoenix Horizon and Phoenix Pinnacle) have spent most of April beating each other up. They are likely to take their frustrations out on the rest of 5A-II. Deer Valley is part of the next group — along with Tucson Ironwood Ridge, Boulder Creek and Tolleson — who could challenge the favorites in the semifinals.
“It’s the strangest year I’ve ever seen for power points,” said coach Deer Valley coach Larry Eubanks. “One loss and you can go from a 2, 3 or 4 spot to 12.”
RECORD: 11-17, 7-5 Desert West Region
RANK: No. 11 5A-II. Visits No. 6 seed Deer Valley at 11 a.m. Saturday.
TOP PLAYERS: Senior C/3B Austin Arias (.351, 1 HR, 18 RBI) Senior 1B/LF Austin Garday (.337, 2 HR, 19 RBI) Senior SS Cale Nicklin (.291, 4 HR, 21 RBI) Senior LF Nathan Rojas (.283, 2 HR, 15 RBI)
SEASON REVIEW: The loss of promising sophomore Zach Hoffpauir and Arias’ early injury, combined with a young pitching staff, appeared to doom the Coyotes, who started 3-12. Then, Centennial took down region favorite Tolleson to begins a streak of six wins in seven games. Four straight losses returned the squad to the playoff bubble, before blowing out Avondale La Joya and handling Ironwood. The offense relies on seniors Arias, Garday, Nicklin and Rojas. Junior Josh Taylor, senior Dante Longoria and sophomore Reyes Murillo have stepped into starting pitching roles and showed promise.
“They’re really efficient with their pitches and can go deep into games,” Centennial coach Jason Nuttall said. “The thing is, they work really hard on their off days to get themselves back and ready.”
PLAYOFF PREVIEW: To a certain extent, Centennial is relieved to have made the playoffs after its demoralizing start. The Coyotes have enough offense to pull a surprise or two, but will have trouble holding down potent offenses.
“The experience we’ve had from playing real good teams early in the year gave us some confidence,” Nuttall said. “We’ve had to play from behind this year, and play in some close games that we lost. But you hope that you can learn from those experiences.”