SURPRISE — Leading up to the Division II state playoffs, Sahuaro had scored double-digit figures just twice in its final 13 games of the regular season. So coach Mark Chandler decided to overhaul the team’s approach to the plate.
So far so good.
The second-seeded Cougars erupted for eight runs in the second inning on their way to an 11-1 five-inning mercy rule win against No. 7 Buckeye Verrado on Thursday night at Surprise Stadium. The Vipers came into the game with 20 straight wins.
Chandler said his team no longer does live hitting on the field aside from practicing small ball.
“Everything is done in the cage where it’s short toss, staying close and banging the ball back up the middle,” Chandler said. “It’s absolutely paying off for us right now.”
The Cougars (23-5) are now two wins from reaching the state finals and will play No. 3 Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain today at 4 p.m. at Diablo Stadium in Tempe.
“We looked like the No. 2 seed tonight,” Chandler said. “Let’s make sure we can string it together tomorrow and come out with the same focus we came out with tonight and I’ll be more than pleased.”
Senior left-hander Justin Hammergren struck out five batters and gave up just three hits on his way to improving to 10-1. He struck out three in a row in the second and set the tone for Sahuaro’s outburst in the bottom half of the inning when it sent seven batters to the plate before Verrado could record an out.
“It definitely put a lot of momentum on our side and that momentum in baseball always helps,” said Hammergren, who had a two-run double in the third to make it 10-1.
Senior shortstop Andrew Black laid down a bunt to load the bases and third baseman Phillip Hindes walked to bring in the first run of the game in the bottom of the second.
Three batters later, with the bases still loaded and no outs, senior center fielder Alex Verdugo shot a two-run double down the right side to put Sahuaro up 5-0.
Verdugo scored two batters later when senior Winston Welch doubled to the gap on the right side and Welch scored to make it 8-0 on an RBI groundout by Nic Cisney.
“It’s great to see our bats coming to life at the right moment of the season,” Verdugo said. “We’ve been doing some new hitting drills and it seems to be paying off.”