TEMPE – On May 10, Chandler Hamilton High School was upset and eliminated from the 6A baseball tournament.
On Tuesday, Hamilton captured its sixth state title.
How? Credit a week of controversy that ended with the Huskies defeating Chandler 11-1 in a five-inning, run-rule game at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
“You can’t kill the dead,” Hamilton outfielder Prince DeBroskie said.
Indeed. Seven days earlier, Queen Creek seemingly ended the Huskies’ season with a 2-1 victory in Mesa that was Hamilton’s second loss of the double-elimination tournament.
“We said our goodbyes and our thank-yous and talked a little bit about next year,” Hamilton coach Mike Woods said.
Senior pitcher Kole Klecker admitted, “Everyone was down. Everybody was crying. We thought our season was over.”
However, the Arizona Interscholastic Association stepped in a day later to deliver a glimmer of hope for Hamilton. The AIA found a discrepancy in the pitch count from Queen Creek’s game against Chaparral, and the Bulldogs were forced to forfeit.
Two days before its bout with Hamilton, Queen Creek pitcher Sebastian Timerlin closed the game for the Bulldogs.
Per the AIA, any pitcher who exceeds 60 pitches in a game must rest longer than two days before returning to the lineup. Schools can track pitch counts through GameChanger or an official AIA pitch-counter document.
Queen Creek counted Tomerlin at 55 pitches. Chaparral counted 64 pitches, but did so through GameChanger. Because Queen Creek did not use an official method, the AIA couldn’t not verify its pitch count and had to defer to Chaparral’s. That resulted in Tomerlin becoming ineligible against Hamilton.
Woods knew there would be debate about the outcome.
“It was a weird feeling,” he said. “I was happy but it wasn’t like I was jumping for joy because I knew people would criticize and it would put us in a bad spot. I told them we didn’t do anything wrong here and the right call was made.”
And it put the Huskies in a unique position.
“Not many people get to see their own funeral,” Woods said.
With a quick turnaround, he started to prepare his team for the semifinals against Chaparral, which gave Hamilton its first loss in the tournament.
DeBroskie said the team was “ready to go” after finding out they were reinstated, adding that Woods had one message for them during practice: “We have nothing to lose. Everyone already hates us so why not make them hate us more.”
Now knowing the cold grip of defeat, Klecker said they “didn’t want to feel that again.”
And they never did.
The Huskies took full advantage of their opportunity as they shut out the Firebirds 2-0 to move to the state title game against Chandler, their rival 3 1/2 miles down Arizona Avenue.
It was all Hamilton on the night of the championship, as the Huskies put up three runs in the bottom of the first after senior and Oregon State signee Gavin Turley was hit by a pitch and DeBroski doubled. Junior infielder Ryan Kucherak brought home DeBroskie with an RBI and Klecker allowed Kucherak to get home with a single before the end of the first.
Turley hit a two-run homer in the second inning to extend Hamilton’s lead to 5-0. The Huskies added two runs in three straight innings to run-rule the Wolves 11-1. DeBroskie called the game with a walk-off RBI in the bottom of the fifth.
One week after believing their season was over, the Huskies found themselves hoisting the title.
“They earned their way to get here,” Chandler coach David Lopez said. “We knew we had to beat any good team and it just happened to be Hamilton and it is what it is. They played really well and congratulations to those guys. I’m just proud of our guys to be here.”
The pitch-count rule was implemented in 2016 to counter the rise in high school athletes needing Tommy John surgery. Schools have since been required to track pitches, but it is often debated how accurately the pitches are counted.