Eric Gardner was pacing in the dugout while his boys were swinging away Tuesday.
When the game was over, Sunrise Mountain shimmied its way to the semifinals of an elite high school tournament, the 28th annual National Classic in Southern California. It did so after upending last year’s maxpreps’ national champion and current No. 1 Clovis, Calif. Buchanan 11-7.
“I haven’t coached a team that is as relaxed and loose as this one,” said Gardner, the only head coach Sunrise Mountain has had in 19 years. “We’ve won close games, but they just don’t seem to panic. They drive and push through. The coach was a bit more stressed today.”
Gardner’s team calmed his nerves somewhat when one of his team’s bigger surprises this year, sophomore catcher Ethan Snodgrass, hit a first inning homer against right-hander Hunter Reinke, who was 16-0 in his career before Tuesday’s game.
Sunrise Mountain’s 13 hits came against a 18-1 Buchanan team that hadn’t allowed more than four runs in a game this season prior to Tuesday's loss, the first defeat of the year for the defending national champ and just its second loss in the past two seasons.
“We have the pitching, but our offense has been our strength this year,” Gardner said during a phone conversation Tuesday. “We are hitting close to .400 as a team.”
Sunrise Mountain (19-3) also has 10 players with at least 10 RBI’s or more.
The leader in the RBI category is Snodgrass and not far behind is Kody Decker (.490 batting average), the brother of former Arizona High School Player of the Year Jaff Decker, who is with the Oakland A’s AAA affiliate, Nashville Sounds. Decker went 3-for-4 with three RBI’s and a home run against Buchanan.
Sunrise Mountain senior right-handed pitcher Timmy Mendez struck out six and gave up only two earned runs in five innings Tuesday. Sunrise Mountain will play La Puente, Calif. Bishop Amat (12-4) in Wednesday’s National Classic semifinals.
If it wins, Sunrise Mountain will advance to Wednesday’s 7 p.m. final at Cal State Fullerton. Sunrise Mountain has won its past 13 games and helped Gardner pick up career win No. 400 last week.
Gardner and Sunrise Mountain are still in search of the program's first state title, however.
“Everybody sent me a text congratulating me on my 400th win, but we are still missing the biggest one of them all,” Gardner said. “We’ll see how the ball bounces.”
So far it’s bouncing Sunrise Mountain's way in California.