The Queen Creek High School baseball team will look to the experience of its upperclassmen as it starts the 2014 season.
Ten of the team's 12 players are upperclassmen, including six seniors, and head coach Mike Campbell feels the experience will give the team a good look at state this year.
"On paper we should be in the mix for sure," said Campbell. "However, we have to stay healthy and hungry. This is a wonderful group of young men. We have a number of returning starters and guys that have been around awhile. If we can show our maturity and work hard every day, we expect some great things from this group. As far as the character they've displayed to this point, they are top notch. As coaches, we need to continue to encourage our players to maintain this level of commitment and leadership."
Last year, the Bulldogs finished 14-4 in section play and made it to the second round of state playoffs for the first time since 2007. The team will return two of its three best hitters from last year's squad in senior Ryan Kottcamp and junior Kody Funderburke. Second baseman Kottcamp hit .454 to lead the team and set a school record in doubles with 15 on the season. Funderburke hit a solid .436 with a team-high 31 RBI. Senior outfielder Marcus Still will also add some power and speed to the lineup as he looks to follow up a solid junior season in which he hit .398 with 23 RBI. All three will also contribute defensively.
Funderburke will join Chase Beal, Josh Andrews and Bryce Dobbs on the hill this season.
“It's very difficult to choose certain guys over others, as this team is a very unique unit in which each player brings something special to the table,” said Campbell. “Beal is very good on the bump and Still is an all-around great athlete. Ryno (Kottcamp) is a prototypical three-hole guy [with] some serious pop and can pretty much do it all. Funderburke, Andrews, Beal and Dobbs will supply us with some power and consistency in the middle of the order. The bottom of the order is a group that will do anything they can to contribute, including some outstanding defense.”
Jake Schlosser, Tanner Bradford and Austin Nichols will add some depth to the team defense, while senior Bodhy Forsgren, who is recovering from an offseason surgery, will be worked into the lineup as he becomes healthy.
The Bulldogs have a pretty solid group of guys this year and with a lot of hard work could make a deep run into the state playoffs in May. To secure a place in the state brackets, QC will have to win its section or be ranked high enough to qualify for the remaining 17 at-large bids in the tourney.
Queen Creek will face some tough tests in its section schedule as they play returning state-qualifiers Williams Field, Seton Catholic and Saguaro as well as the reigning state champions at Notre Dame Prep. Even with a tough schedule, Campbell hopes his team can take one day at a time.
“We just need to worry about each game as they come, especially with having the most difficult schedule we will ever have,” said Campbell. “If we can do this, we will have no regrets and have the potential to challenge for a state championship.”