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Winning streak has Buckeye in playoff hunt
Submitted by Casey Pritchard on Wed, 04/19/2017 - 12:00am
Hawks hold own destiny heading into final week
Buckeye heads into the final full week of the regular season with a mission to accomplish: beat Estrella Foothills twice.
The Hawks are 5-1 in the 4A Southwest Region, a half game behind the Wolves. The two teams play twice this week, which will determine the winner of the region and an automatic playoff berth. The games are extremely important for both teams, as Buckeye sits 17th in the power-points rankings and Estrella is 19th. Only the top-16 teams make the state tournament, so whoever finishes second in the region will likely miss out.
Buckeye put itself in a good position by winning six straight games from March 23 through April 5. The Hawks then lost 12-11 to Flagstaff and 9-7 to Gilbert Higley, but bounced back to beat Flagstaff Coconino 10-4 April 13. Their overall power-points record is 11-4.
“It’s kind of been an up-and-down season for us a little bit,” Buckeye coach Danny Rodriguez said. “We’ve done a pretty good job of hanging in there, staying in the hunt, staying in the race.”
The close losses to Flagstaff and Higley hurt, and the Flagstaff game came down to defensive miscues.
“We just committed too many errors, six errors,” Rodriguez said. “That’s been our story a little bit, we don’t play defense sometimes and it kind of hurt us that game.”
In the Higley game, the Knights scored six runs in the third inning and led 7-1 before Buckeye mounted a comeback, but it was too little, too late.
“We left the ball up a couple times 0-2 and they hammered it,” Rodriguez said. “Scoring runs is not an issue. Sometimes, the defense will let us down a little bit. For the most part, the kids are playing hard, doing a good job for us, but we don’t get the shutdown inning we need, we make an error and it costs us. We get the errors at the wrong time, but the kids are playing hard, doing a good job.”
All told, Buckeye has made 60 errors in 23 games. The irony for the Hawks is that defense hasn’t been an issue in recent years.
“Our defense has been our mainstay, pitching and defense,” Rodriguez said. “We took a hit up the middle losing [Andrew] Roque and [Cody] Garrison, they’d been in the program a lot of years playing middle infield. This year, [losing them] took its toll.”
Buckeye lost its starting second baseman at the beginning of the year, and its opening-day shortstop, J.C. Perez, was moved to catcher. That forced Rodriguez to move his centerfielder to shortstop.
“He’s done a good job for us to this point,” Rodriguez said. “He makes some defensive mistakes, but he’s learning the position.”
Buckeye has a transfer playing second base now, but he had to sit out the first nine games because of the power-points rules.
“We’ve been kind of hurting at third base, also,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just kind of taken its toll. Some days, we play well, some days, it looks like we’ve never played before.”
The shortstop now is Rocky Botello, while Cris Peters plays second base. Third base has been by committee, either Jair Galvan or Carlos Milleras, depending on who is pitching, Rodriguez said.
Offensively, Ishmael Higuera and Botello have led the way. Higuera is batting .500 with 10 doubles, two triples and three homers. He’s also driven in a team-leading 23 runs. Botello is hitting .481 with seven doubles and 21 RBI. He leads the team with 26 runs scored.
“Those two, offensively, have been carrying us,” Rodriguez said. “Offensively, we were always just manufacturing runs, scrape and scratch to get a run, but this year, this team, these juniors, they can swing it. They like to hit. We’re outhitting people big time.”
The Hawks had 19 hits against Campo Verde and 18 against Flagstaff. The offensive outbursts have helped tremendously, but the Hawks can’t just rely on that, Rodriguez said.
“Sometimes, I think our offense thinks we’ll just outscore these guys and we’ll be OK, but sometimes, it doesn’t happen if we don’t play the other side of the game,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve got to be able to play defense a little bit, have some shutdown innings. In the six games that we were winning, we won 3-2 a couple times, 4-2, and I thought we understood what we needed to do defensively. But the last two games, we just didn’t get it done. That happens. With high school kids, that’s going to happen.”
The Coconino victory was a nice bounce-back win for the Hawks after losing two in a row, Rodriguez said. He was hoping to win two or all three during that stretch, he said.
“I thought if we could get two or three wins, it would bump us up in the power rankings to where it wouldn’t have to come down to us having to win two against Estrella,” Rodriguez said. “But at this point in time, it’s not going to work out that way.”
Even though the Estrella contests are must-win games, Rodriguez said his athletes are excited for the opportunity.
“At least we have something to play for these last couple games,” Rodriguez said. “Everything is in our hands, and that’s what we told the kids last night, everything is in your hands now. If we go out and play like we know how to play, we’ll take care of business. So, our kids are excited.”
Buckeye hosted Estrella Tuesday in the first game of the home-and-home. The result was unavailable at press time. Buckeye plays at 6 p.m. Thursday at Estrella. The Hawks finish the season hosting Phoenix Greenway at 6 p.m. April 24.
Casey Pritchard can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @CaseyonSports.
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