With high school baseball season just days away, Hamilton coach Mike Woods prepares his team for the road ahead and has one goal in mind: another state championship.
A deep run into playoffs may be paramount, but that isn’t detouring Woods’ message to the team.
“We stress playing one game at a time, and every game matters, and that’s how we talk and focus,” Woods said.
The Huskies are hunting for their third consecutive state championship and fourth in five years.
However, playing with a target on their back is nothing new for Hamilton. That’s something the coaching staff prepares their players for year in, and year out.
“People have been gunning for us for years, and I think we embrace it,” Woods said. “We try and get our guys prepared knowing everyone is going to try and give us their best game, and that makes us better. It doesn’t faze our guys. Not everyone gets the opportunity to go for a three-peat so what the heck, might as well run with it.”
Hamilton lost a lot of talented seniors from last season, many of whom went on to play baseball at the next level. The baseball factory sent 13 seniors to either the junior college, Division I or professional level.
Woods highlighted the loss of a trio of three-year starters – Drew Swift (Arizona State University), Nick Brueser (Stanford) and Cole Bellinger (drafted by the San Diego Padres) – as pieces that will definitely be missed.
“Swift, Brueser and Bellinger, the way they went about their daily business set a good example for everybody and that is hard to replace,” Woods said. “But we’ve lost big groups before, and I think this team is ready to turn the page.”
One player Woods is leaning on to take a leadership role this year is senior catcher Britt Graham. The New Mexico State commit, who hit .391 and drove in 17 RBI last season said the team is up for the challenge in front of them.
“We are eager, we want another state championship,” Graham said. “We’ve been there before. We aren’t stressed; we just are just trying to play the best game we can, one game at a time.”
Along with Graham, the Huskies return four other starters around the diamond.
Sophomore Michael Brueser, younger brother of Nick Brueser, played left field last season but is expected to take over the duties in center. Junior J.D. McLaughlin (Oregon State commit) will play right field and looks to be a force in the lineup. Jacob Thiele, the 2017 playoff offensive MVP for Hamilton, according to Woods, will remain at third base. Cody Hedalen, who hit .377 last season in his 68 at-bats, will continue to see action as the designated hitter.
Sophomore Tyler Wilson (Grand Canyon University commit) is a newcomer to watch at first base.
The pitching staff returns a few familiar faces and is very deep according to Woods.
The rotation will rely on senior Hayden Baker (University of Pacific commit), junior lefty Shane Murphy (Grand Canyon University commit) and junior Dustin Bermudez to lead the staff.
The Huskies will also depend on newcomers Tyler Dubuque, Trey Goodrich and Kyle Ponzo to contribute on the mound as well.
Bermudez was a big part of the pitching staff in 2017 posting a 2.74 ERA in 30.2 innings pitched. He knows what it takes to win a championship and spoke about some of the new additions to the team.
“I’d call it a reload. The players from last year and the players up from junior varsity have been great for the team,” Bermudez said.
Hamilton will play in two tournaments this year: the Desert Vista Invitational and the Horizon National Invitational.
Woods had very high praise for the Horizon tournament.
“The Horizon tournament is the best high school baseball tournament in the state, in my opinion,” Woods said. “Year in and year out, a lot of the top teams come in.”