Saguaro baseball gears up for region play after 2018 turnaround

The Saguaro baseball team celebrates with pitcher Clay Randall (13) after the Sabercats defeated St. Mary’s 5-4 Wednesday, March 14. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

With a change of attitude and a few new players, the Saguaro High School baseball team has transformed itself into a region title contender — a far cry from the Sabercats’ 2017 status.

Last year, Saguaro totaled 10 wins for the entire season, reaching that 10th win on the fifth-to-last game of the season. This year, the Sabercats were the first in 4A’s Skyline region to reach 10 wins after a Wednesday, March 14 win over St. Mary’s Catholic High School and there is still about a month left in the regular season.

While little has changed statistically in the Sabercats, Head Coach Joe Muecke said the taste of losing didn’t sit well with his players.

“We had good energy last year but we just had a little bit of self doubt,” he said in a March 14 interview. “This year, we stopped doubting ourselves and started believing in the fact that we can win close games and we should win close games.”

Last year, 10 of Saguaro’s 20 losses were by one run as opposed to this year where most of their wins have come off of multiple runs.

Kai Inouye (1) races to first base during Saguaro’s 5-4 win over St. Mary’s Wednesday, March 14. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Last year’s performance, pitcher Ryan Cowdry said, spurned frustration among the players, which led to improvements.

Saguaro suffered two losses to open the season but since that point, has gone 10–1 and won its first region game this season, March 14’s 5–4 win over St. Mary’s.

“The whole mentality of moving on and having that defeat last year just shows we know we’re a better team and when we put it all together, we can be one of the best teams in the state,” Cowdry said in a March 14 interview.

Many of Saguaro’s top contributors returned from last year including Nolan Bils, Clay Randall and Nick Barendrick.

Still, the Sabercats field a couple of new faces such as Hogan Hatten and Christian Dorsett, both of whom Coach Muecke said adds significantly to the team.

“It’s just new energy and new energy means competition,” he said. “Competition has actually really increased our play because guys want to fight for spots and opportunities.”

Hattan, a junior, transferred from Pinnacle High School primarily for football and plans to sit out the required five games next season per the state’s transfer rule.

He did not play baseball last year because he wanted to focus on football but said he played his freshman year.

Hatten said what’s impressed him most about the Sabercats was their chemistry.

“Everybody’s really nice to each other,” he said in a March 14 interview. “You don’t see bickering or complaining. We’re really a unit and that’s what makes us special.”

Hatten has a batting average of .394 and leads the team in RBI and has the second most hits on the team. Justin Jarvis has the highest batting average (.440) and Barendrick leads the team in hits (14).

Another newcomer, Dorsett, has made a considerable impact on the team as a pitcher for Saguaro. He’s logged 23 innings and posted a 2.13 earned run average and 11 strikeout. Cowdry and Teig Newcombe lead the team in strikeouts with 18 apiece.

Barendrick said he hopes the way Saguaro’s performed so far this season conveys a clear message to other teams.

“We can bring it to anyone, we can beat anyone and we’re not scared of anyone,” he said in a March 14 interview.

After a few more non-region games, the Sabercats will turn their attention region play. This will begin with an April 3 matchup against Thunderbird High School.

The other four teams in the region — Thunderbird, St. Mary’s, Cactus Shadows and Shadow Mountain high schools — all have winning records as of Thursday, March 15.

Austin Thurman (17) throws the ball to a teammate while warming up before an inning during Saguaro’s 5-4 win over St. Mary’s Wednesday, March 14. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Coach Muecke said he thinks the Sabercats are in for a tough region slate because of how good the other teams are on the field.

“We’re going to beat each other up a bit so we’ve got to be ready to show who we are and we’re going to have to keep preparing,” he said.

Last year, both Cactus Shadows and Thunderbird made it to the playoffs with Cactus Shadows winning the region.

Cactus Shadows loses several of its top hitters but does return a couple of pitchers with experience from last year’s team.

Thunderbird has a senior-heavy roster where only three of the 15 players are underclassmen. The Falcons have a pair of pitchers who have already tossed more than 20 strikeouts.

Shadow Mountain has a good mix of senior and junior hitters with four of them batting over .400 and five of them with double-digit RBI.

St. Mary’s has a pair of pitchers who have ERAs lower than 1.0 with one of them tossing 16 strikeouts so far.

“Our goal is always to win our region,” Coach Muecke said. “We’ve been close a couple of years in my tenure. In the last five years, we’ve had a couple of opportunities. Probably one of our best is sitting right here in front of us.”

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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