Hamilton pitcher Cole Bellinger won last year’s state championship game and will get the start on Tuesday night at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Video: Richard Obert/azcentral sports
A frustrating baseball season beset by injuries can turn memorable for Cole Bellinger Tuesday night, as he takes the ball for Chandler Hamilton once again in the biggest game.
Bellinger, whose pitching has fueled Hamilton’s late-season drive, will take the mound one last time for No.10-seed Hamilton in the 6A championship game against No. Phoenix Pinnacle at 7 p.m. at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Bellinger, who missed part of the season dealing with an oblique injury, pitched the first four innings of last year’s state championship win against Glendale Mountain Ridge. He would have likely finished that game had it not been for an hour weather delay after his team led 5-0 after four innings.
“There’s adrenaline building up,” he said. “I’ve been there. I was there last year. I know what to expect.”
Bellinger’s return to the field coincided with brother Cody Bellinger‘s rise with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Cody Bellinger, 21, who didn’t win a state championship when he played for Hamilton, has hit seven home runs with a batting averaging hovering at .300 since he was called up from the minors a few weeks ago. He was the National League Player of the Week.
“It’s crazy,” Cole said of his brother. “I talk to him everyday. I ask him what it’s like up there. He says it’s the best experience of his life.”
Bellinger is 3-1 with a 2.05 ERA. In the playoffs, he led the Huskies to wins over Tolleson 11-1 and Phoenix Horizon 4-3.
Hamilton will be going for its sixth state baseball championship since 2003 under coach Mike Woods.
For Pinnacle and 39-year coach Roy Muller, this is a first.
This is the first time Pinnacle has ever reached the state baseball final. And it’s the first time Muller has ever gotten to the final game in a head baseball coaching career that began at Paradise Valley High in the 1970s.
More than 50 orthopedic surgeries after his coaching career began, Muller, who missed two high school seasons in his career and is in his second year at Pinnacle after spending his career at Paradise Valley, has his best shot at winning a state title.
“Anything can happen,” said Muller, who has taken a team that needed a lucky bounce to avoid extra innings against Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor in an elimination game and staved off elimination by beating Tempe Corona del Sol twice. “We have the talent.”
And the resourcefulness.
Pinnacle entered the state tournament without one of its top pitchers, 6-foot-5 junior Calvin Schapira, who has committed to USC. Schapira suffered a shoulder injury on the eve of the playoffs.
That has put more pressure on a young but fearless pitching staff, led by senior Jason Nelson (6-2, 1.39 ERA).
Since Pinnacle’s 5-2 win over Corona del Sol on Saturday, Muller said his phone has been blowing up with messages from former players, dating to the ’70s.
Muller didn’t even think he’d be leading a team anymore, until Pinnacle called him a week before tryouts last year when it was in desperate need for a coach.
“I’ve gotten calls from everywhere, PV people saying, ‘We’re pulling for Pinnacle,’ ” Muller said. “I had a player from my first year, 1976, calling me.”
This is the lowest-seeded final for a state baseball championship game in the history of the Arizona Interscholastic Association with No. 11 Gilbert Campo Verde facing No. 13 Glendale Raymond S. Kellis in Tuesday’s 4 p.m. 5A final at Diablo Stadium.
Kellis has yet to lose in the playoffs.
Campo Verde bounced back from its first loss of the playoffs with a win over Phoenix Arcadia the following night to reach the final for the first time.
This is the first time both teams have reached the state finals in baseball.
“I’m sure to everybody outside of our circle, and I’m sure the same holds true for Campo, that it seems like a pretty crazy couple of weeks,” Kellis coach Michael Deardoff said. “I think it just shows the parity we have across our state when it comes to baseball.
“I felt going into the state tournament that if we got hot, we could have a chance to make a deep run. The way the tournament is set up and the draws that played out led me to believe we had a shot to do something special. A lot of the teams that ended up on our side of the bracket were ones we were either familiar with or had already played this season.
“Although we weren’t super successful against them during the regular season, we had competed with them and had given ourselves a shot to win. Knowing that gave me confidence that my battle-tested team could surprise some people.”
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