The eight seniors who are in their third year of varsity baseball at Sunrise Mountain have always been among Arizona's elite in terms of pitching and defense.
In the last month this group, and the younger players who support them, have caught up at the plate. Thursday was no exception, as the Mustangs drubbed defending West Valley Region champion Copper Canyon for the second time this week.
Sunrise Mountain (18-2, 9-0 West Valley) posted a double-digit run total for the sixth time in the last 10 games, taking out Copper Canyon (9-11, 4-4) 13-3 in six innings.
"We're getting more guys that are hitting throughout the lineup instead of the same guys. I don't think (senior) Austin (Byler) has made an out in a week," coach Eric Gardner said. "We've hit behind him better. And we're getting more production with those 6, 7, 8 and 9 hitters."
Byler reached base all five times he came to bat, including two intentional walks. Senior Tyler Crawford added three singles and a walk. Junior Adam Webb, the No. 8 hitter, walked twice and singled. And the new ninth-place hitter, sophomore Brick Paskiewicz, went three for four.
Crawford said the improved offense is a result of experience and increased belief.
"I think it's more of a confidence thing. Everyone on the team knows that when they come up, they can do their job," he said.
In the bottom of the first, Crawford drove Byler in with a single to right field. It was an appetizer for he Mustangs, who sent 11 batters to the plate in a seven-run second inning against Copper Canyon ace Alex Gutierrez.
Junior Tyler Fite was hit by the inning's first pitch. Webb moved him to third on a hit and run, and scooted into second on a throwing error. With two outs and the runners still on second and third, Byler was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Then the fireworks began.
Senior Tony Troftgruben poked in two runners on a bloop single to shallow center field. Then Troftgruben stole second base and Byler scored on an overthrow to second. Crawford picked up another RBI by singling up the middle.
Junior Nick White singled and eventually moved to second while Crawford reached third. Senior Drew Wolff was intentionally walked.
Fite finished what he started on a bloop of his own, driving in two runs. Wolff topped off the surge by scoring after a bad throw to third base.
"We thought we were going to be challenged today seeing Alex and we put 10 on Alex, so that was really good," Gardner said. "He's the best pitcher we've seen since spring break. We haven't seen a good arm like that in a month."
Crawford drove in two more runs on a third inning single to right center field.
Senior starting pitcher Steven Kane produced another solid outing, striking out five Aztecs, scattering four hits and allowing one run in four innings. He's now 8-0 on the season.
Last year, Kane had to be near perfect, tossing a complete-game shutout in a 2-0 win, to give Copper Canyon its only region loss. In that game he outdueled Gutierrez, but that's the only thing similar to 2010.
The Aztecs have sunk back to the middle of the pack this year. But for the Mustangs today's win and Tuesday's 18-3 rout were still sweet.
"I wouldn't say it was personal, but we definitely enjoyed beating them. We didn't forget that they won the region last year," Crawford said. "This year we wanted to make a point."
Copper Canyon avoided another five-inning loss with RBIs by senior Jose Sanchez and Dru Douglas and senior Rodrigo Lopez's sacrifice fly.
Byler knocked in a run in the bottom of the fifth. Paskiewicz brought in another runner in the sixth by driving a ball over the left fielder's head. Then junior Trevor Gray hustled home win the final run on another Aztecs throwing error.
Sunrise Mountain has not been challenged by its league rivals, save for a 5-4 win against Kellis March 9. So once again, the Mustangs will look out of state for competition.
The team's only two losses came to teams for another state in the Best of the West tournament. Next week Sunrise heads to Anaheim, Calif., to play in the Hard Nine National Classic.
"It's going to be a blast. We're really looking forward to it because other than the Best of the West, we haven't played many teams out of region," Crawford said. "We're really excited to see what the West Coast has to offer and how we stack up."
Gardner said the trip will be another great bonding experience for the kids, and will give the team the type of competition it needs to face entering the state tournament.
Sunrise Mountain starts off against IMG Academies of Bradenton, Fla., at 2 p.m. Monday. The Mustangs will play at least four games in four days, and figure to match up with several of California's biggest schools.
"We go there with the objective that it's kind of a preview to the state championships for us. The pitching that we're going to see and the teams we're going to see are state (tournament) caliber teams," Gardner said. "There's two things that will come out of that. No. 1 is valuable experience against good teams that most teams don't get if they're in a poor region. The second thing about it is you've got your guys together for five or six days and that final meshing and goal-setting time."