Back for more: Hamilton High baseball begins quest for consecutive 6A state championships

Hamilton expects to light up the scoreboard this season behind a powerful lineup of future Division I players. (Photo by Haley Smilow/Cronkite News)

Zach Wadas is ranked seventh in the state of Arizona, but don’t tell him that. “It’s great, but it’s not the end all,” he said. (Photo by Haley Smilow/Cronkite News)

CHANDLER – From Cody Bellinger and Eric Farris to current senior standout Roch Cholowksy, Hamilton High School has become a factory for elite baseball prospects.

And for state championship trophies.

The 2023 season is no exception. More than half of coach Mike Woods’ 19-player roster this season has committed to Division I baseball programs. The list includes Cholowsky, along with seniors Ryan Kucherak, Zach Wadas and Josh Tiedemann.

Even more impressive, all four players are ranked among the top 10 prospects in Arizona’s class of 2023, according to Prep Baseball Report.

But before taking their baseball talents to the next level, the Huskies aim to close their high school careers on a high note by extending Hamilton’s baseball dynasty.

Woods will turn to his core of seniors to lead the Huskies on their quest for a second straight 6A state championship and the school’s sixth title since 2014 when Hamilton opens its season Wednesday.

While Woods has enjoyed witnessing Cholowsky’s growth since the 6-foot-2 senior shortstop joined the Huskies’ varsity team as a freshman, he is ready to see Cholowsky and his teammates take it to the next level.

Roch Cholowsky is the top-ranked high school baseball player in Arizona, and he's prepared to build on his 2022 batting average of .357 this season. (Photo by Haley Smilow/Cronkite News)

Roch Cholowsky is the top-ranked high school baseball player in Arizona, and he’s prepared to build on his 2022 batting average of .357 this season. (Photo by Haley Smilow/Cronkite News)

And he believes they will as they quietly lead by example.

“I didn’t necessarily look for leadership from them on certain things, but they were team leaders,” Woods said. “They were our two, three, four hitters in our lineup. They were the middle of our infield.”

For the players, their focus is going out every day and playing fundamentally sound baseball with their best friends. They push each other in practice and bring out the best in each other during games.

Cholowsky even added that their camaraderie helped the team win the state championship last year.

“You can’t win the amount of games we win every year if you don’t have a good bond with your teammates,” he said.

Ranked No. 1 in the state in Prep Baseball Report’s rankings after batting .357 last season, Cholowsky committed to UCLA during his freshman year. It was his dream school from the start.

“With the chance they offered me, I took it right away,” Cholowsky said. “There was no need to wait.”

Similarly, teammates Wadas and Tiedemann committed to Texas Christian University in 2020. Wadas, who is ranked No. 7 in the state, carried a .268 batting average in 2022. Tiedemann, who is ranked No. 10, hit .371 last year. Both players took to Instagram to announce their commitments and said they were “blessed” to join the Horned Frogs.

Kucherak, ranked No. 4 and currently nursing an injury, took longer to decide where he would continue his career. In July 2022, he announced on Instagram that he was “extremely excited and humbled” to join the Louisiana State Tigers program.

“I look forward to following them in their quests at the next level,” Woods said. “Those guys are going to big Power Five schools. It’s just a good feeling.”

Building this stable of talent on the roster is not unexpected from Woods, who has been at the helm since Hamilton opened in 1998. Over the years, Hamilton has built a strong reputation that attracts top homegrown players like Cholowsky, Kucherak, Wadas and Tiedemann en route to nine state championships.

Hamilton's players credit the team camaraderie for the program's successful run of eight state championships. (Photo by Haley Smilow/Cronkite News)

Hamilton’s players credit the team camaraderie for the program’s successful run of eight state championships. (Photo by Haley Smilow/Cronkite News)

“Generally speaking, we’ve done well,” Woods said of building a competitive roster year after year.

Though the school does not recruit or scout, according to Woods, it runs youth camps and an under-14 summer team that provides Woods and his coaching staff with an opportunity to look at players before high school.

“They’re Chandler kids,” Woods said.

For some players, the pressure of playing on a top team and being highly ranked individually might be too much to handle, but the four seniors don’t let the attention get to them.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter,” Cholowsky said about his No. 1 ranking. He appreciates the recognition of his hard work and success, but he knows what happens on the diamond counts most.

His teammates agree.

“It’s great, but it’s not the end all,” Wadas said.

With the season quickly approaching, there’s only one goal in mind: win another state championship.

Hamilton’s first game is Wednesday against Hoover (Ala.) High School at Bell Bank Park in Mesa, where Cholowsky, Kucherak, Wadas and Tiedemann hope to set the tone as another championship quest begins.

Haley Smilow HAIL-ee SMI-low (she/her/hers)
Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Haley Smilow expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Smilow, who is currently covering sports in Phoenix, is also interning with the Diamondbacks and has previously interned at the Phoenix Magazine, AZTV and Phoenix Rising.