Cole Bellinger pitched Hamilton to a 6-4 win over Pinnacle for second straight 6A baseball championship on Tuesday night. Richard Obert/azcentral sports
Chandler Hamilton celebrated a baseball championship Tuesday night that looked bleak two months ago when it was struggling to get timely hits and trying to plug a big pitching hole.
That was filled late in the season with the return of senior Cole Bellinger, who was clutch again on the biggest stage at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Bellinger, injured through part of the season, shrugged off Phoenix Pinnacle’s two-run second inning and shrugged off his coach to start the seventh, pitching No. 10 Hamilton to a 6-4 victory over No. 8 Pinnacle for a second consecutive 6A state championship.
Bellinger was the winning pitcher in last year’s lightning-delayed state championship win over Glendale Mountain Ridge.
Coach Mike Woods said he was going to bring in shortstop Drew Swift to start the seventh. But Bellinger talked him out of it.
After giving up a pinch-hit single, Bellinger faced the top of the order, but he quickly got Jake Holmes to fly out and struck out Devin Bonadeo. At that point, Bellinger reached the state bylaw pitch limit, and Woods had to bring in Swift to get the last out.
“I was going to take him out in the seventh but he talked me out of it,” said Woods, who won his sixth state championship at Hamilton since 2003. “I told him, ‘Pitch count is going to get you there.’ He said, ‘I got it.’ You know what, if the kid wants the ball that bad and he’s taken us this far, I thought he deserved it.”
Like Mountain Ridge, Pinnacle (26-9) was making its first appearance in the final.
It was the first time Roy Muller coached in a state championship game in a career that began in 1976 at Paradise Valley and spanned 39 years, all but the past two at PV.
Muller came out of retirement last year, a week before tryouts when Pinnacle was in desperate need of a coach to lead the team.
BASEBALL: State tournament scores, schedules
Muller will wait until the summer to decide if he’ll come back. He said he doesn’t want to make an emotional decision now.
“We’ve been our own worst enemy at times,” said Muller, pointing to the third inning when Hamilton scored three runs, two on an errant throw to second.
Senior Jason Nelson, Pinnacle’s ace, struck out nine through four innings.
But Hamilton (23-10), which won its last six games, took advantage of the wild throw on Nick Brueser’s fielder’s choice to score two runs and give the Huskies a 3-2 lead. Hamilton made it 4-2 in the inning on a J.D. McLaughlin’s single.
Bellinger overcame a shaky second inning in which Pinnacle scored two runs on Jacob Ferguson’s triple and Patrick Donovan’s groundout RBI.
Bellinger got into a groove, striking out four in the third and fourth innings, before Pinnacle started to get to him in the sixth.
Pinnacle had four of its eight hits off of Bellinger in the sixth and scored two runs, cutting it to 6-4. C.J. Schauwecker and Patrick Donovan had RBI hits in the inning.
“I knew my pitch count was going up a little bit,” Bellinger said. “I just tried to minimize pitches and get outs, first-pitch fastballs and change-ups.”
Bellinger had faith in Swift to close it out.
It was the second year in a row that Hamilton swept spring sports titles with state championships in softball and baseball.
But this was a tougher road for the preseason No. 1 that finished tied for second behind top-seed Chandler Basha in the Premier Region.
“When we walked in the stadium, we knew we were going to take it home,” senior outfielder Brayden Merritt said. “After we scored those three runs in the third, we knew we were going to get it.
“Basha won the regional, but we’re holding the trophy at the end. And that’s all that matters.”