Mountain Ridge shuts down Hamilton to set up rematch for title berth

Mountain Ridge junior Zach Rogers throws a pitch against Hamilton on Friday, May 10 during a 6A baseball playoff game at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Mountain Ridge once again saved its revenge for an ideal time.

For the third time in the 6A baseball playoffs, the Mountain Lions defeated a team it had lost to twice previously. This time there is a difference.

No. 14 seed Mountain Ridge (18-14) will see No. 2 Chandler Hamilton ( again quickly – think 24 hours. The Mountain Lions’ 4-1 win Friday at Tempe Diablo Stadium causes a rematch – at the same park and start time no less – at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Winner takes all, or at least a berth in Tuesday night’s 6A state baseball final against the winner of Saturday night’s Tempe Corona del Sol-Mesa Red Mountain rematch.

“Trust me, (Hamilton is) going to be good tomorrow. It’s going to be a tough game. These guys are going to be ready,” Mountain Ridge coach Artie Cox said.

Juniors Travis Warriner and Zach Rogers patiently built a 4-0 lead in the first five innings Friday.

Warriner, a shortstop, drove in three runs, including the two that eventually made the difference. The Mountain Lions got two runners on with no outs in the fourth, but the Huskies picked up two quick outs.

Warriner slugged a two-run double to deep left field off Hamilton senior ace Dustin Bermudez and his team had a 3-0 cushion.

“In the first at bat, we sort of had an idea of what he was going to be coming out with. As we got to the second time through the lineup, we knew that with runners on, he wasn’t going to be throwing fastballs. So we started sitting on off speed and that’s when we started hammering pitches and were able to score runs,” Warriner said.

Then in the sixth, he produced a run in truly bizarre fashion. Warriner hit a sky-high pop up that started foul of the first base line but looped back into fair territory beyond the bag.

A Hamilton player caught it, but was falling with his back to the plate. Alertly, junior catcher Garrett Olson, tagged up at third base and came home for the fourth run.

Rogers kept chugging along, shutting out a team that averages nearly eight runs a contest and scattering four singles in the first five innings. For him this already was a rematch, and he learned from the Mountain Lions’ 3-2 loss in his start against Hamilton a week ago.

“Everything had to be inside and soft away to get them to chase and get ground balls,” Rogers said. ”

He went an out further than anticipated before giving way to junior closer Brock Peery with one down in the sixth. The submariner allowed an RBI single to junior Will Maxley in that inning but limited the damage.

Peery picked up two outs in the seventh and two strikes on Bermudez before a couple of foul balls bumped him up to the limit that he could pitch Friday and still be used Saturday. So sophomore Matthew Martinez picked up a one-pitch save after inducing a ground ball out.

“Our goal was to get (Zach) through five innings today and get him through to Peery. He actually went 5 1/3 so that was nice,” Cox said. “(Taking Peery out on an 0-2 count) was strictly pitch count so we can bring him back tomorrow. If we hadn’t been in that position, we would have let him let him run. But we were in a good spot to take him out.”

Now, Cox gets to counter with his ace, senior Zach Martinez, in Saturday’s rematch.

The Mountain Lions broke through on Bermudez in the top of the third. Neville singled to left and took second base on a passed ball.

After an out, junior Kyler Stancato laced an RBI double to right center for a 1-0 lead.

The Mountain Lions playoff run – entering the play-in round as the No. 19 seed and knocking out Phoenix Brophy Prep, O’Connor and Liberty – has all the trappings of an underdog coming to life. But to Cox and his staff, the team is now starting to play up to its capabilities.

“We were just talking as coaches earlier today. We expected more of them because we’ve been around this group for so long and it’s a really talented group and they’re grinders. I’ve been waiting for these young kids to come up and knew this was going to be a special group,” Cox said. “Everybody else on the outside sees it as a really young group but we’re starting to see them mature. We used to scrimmage our young guys against our seniors last year and the young guys did really well.”

Mountain Ridge outfielder Ryan Ellis catches a fly ball against Hamilton on May 10 at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

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