Tanner Spallina

Tanner Spallina and the Verrado Vipers are hoping to make another deep run into the postseason. (Photo by Griffin Fabits)

Some digging is required, but once found, it’s staggering to see the kind of maintained success the Verrado High School varsity baseball program has enjoyed in the past decade.

It was 2009 in which the school last had a baseball team sport a sub.-500 record through the first 10 games of the regular season.

Since then, it’s been a decade-long stretch of postseason contention, 5A Desert West Region titles and an appearance in last spring’s state championship game.

This year appears to be no different.

Brimming with new faces and a young core, this year’s squad has already prolonged that hot streak, courtesy of its 6-2 record through eight regular season games this spring.

Because of its established resume in recent seasons, the Vipers were invited to participate in the prestigious Boras Classic tournament in March.

The tournament, fronted by mogul sports agent Scott Boras and The Boras Foundation, is a “16-team invitational (that) pits the most elite high school teams from Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Nevada to name a Southwest Champion,” per the organization’s press release.

The Vipers played four games in the Boras Classic, and despite departing the tournament without a win, first-year head coach Darrell Hatfield said just being amongst the most elite programs in the Southwest was beneficial for his young bunch.

“Maxpreps.com has that as the sixth best tournament in the nation,” Hatfield said following his team’s 11-1 win over Campo Verde on March 20. “We played some very good competition. Going forward, it helps us out a lot.”

The four tournament losses do not count toward Verrado’s regular season record, per AZPreps365, hence a listed 6-2 record thus far in the season.

The year Verrado started this formidable streak in 2009, the Vipers’ current catcher, junior Tanner Spallina, was just seven years old.

Now, Spallina is a driving force in ushering Verrado back into the postseason for a sixth straight season, according to Maxpreps.

Spallina, back for his second season as the varsity team’s backstop, is batting .317 through 14 games this spring.

“In the Boras Classic, we faced really good teams constantly. It really showed us where we have to be as a program, even just off the field,” he said.

“The game just got quicker (in the tournament). The game sped up so much more. Guys throwing harder, guys coming off the bench just playing solid baseball.”

Slowing the pace of play down and letting the game come to them is what Verrado is learning – among many other things – on how to compete with the most elite programs in the Southwest region.

Easier said than done, though?

“It’s a lot easier said than done,” Spallina chuckled.

Paired with Spallina, Verrado is returning leadership from last year’s team through the likes of senior pitcher Rocky King.

The southpaw King has thrown 22 innings this season to the tune of a 3.50 ERA. He’s struck out 30 hitters and walked just eight.

King is one of several bright spots Hatfield has spotted with his starting rotation.

“(Junior) Cameron Hood’s come in and been great, (junior) Jake Occhipinti’s been really good. Our defense has been strong – even though we’re young out there, it’s strong,” Hatfield said.

Eight underclassmen have already graced the roster, per Maxpreps, and four of them are lineup regulars.

Freshman Larry Haskins and sophomores Eli Walling, Christian Ramirez and Jake King, younger brother of senior lefty Rocky, are seeing plenty of playing time at the varsity level.

Jake King burst onto the scene last spring, during the Vipers’ magical run to the title game, and stationed himself as their right fielder of the future with the thump he provides from the left-side of the plate.

Haskins, though just a freshman, has been the team’s primary shortstop to begin the spring. Ramirez has already seen 22 at-bats in the nine games he’s appeared in.

Hatfield said Walling caught the attention of the coaching staff early on in the season. He’s batting .278 with 10 RBI.

“He puts the ball in play consistently, and he came up with huge hits early,” he said.

A year ago, as the Vipers advanced to the title game, Walling had just wrapped up his first season of high school baseball with Verrado’s freshmen team.

Now, he’s been thrust into the spotlight, hoping to be a key player that slingshots the Vipers back into another deep postseason run.

“(My teammates) don’t mess around as far as keeping it real with you. They’ll let me know when I’m keeping my head up and not really listening, and they make me put my head down and grind, so I just put my head down and grind. I started the season off well, and I started keeping my head up and not really listening. They made sure I kept my head down and grinded.”

From Verrado’s opening day lineup last year, just two of those starters returned this spring. They had 11 seniors graduate.

Getting the underclassmen up to speed seems like a tall task. But, Spallina ensured, it’s really just “putting the puzzle pieces together.”

“The junior varsity guys, all of our program, we run the same practice, same format,” he said. “Our varsity team is up here, JV team is down at their field, but everything and all expectations are the same throughout every level. It’s the same norms, same outcome. The guys on junior varsity last year were learning the same stuff as the varsity guys were last year.”

And despite the flurry of roster moves, nothing has wavered when it comes to Verrado baseball’s production. New players will introduce themselves to the varsity scene, and a postseason berth will likely ensue.

It’s only what’s happened around here for the last decade.