No longer is the Knights baseball team in the shadows of the Tempe Prep sports scene. With postseason appearances in each of its last two seasons, and compiling a 12-2 record in non-tournament games and dominating its section in the 2014 campaign, the team has now morphed into yet another TPA sports giant.
Prior to the 2012 season, the Knights had never qualified for the playoffs. Yet in just a span of three years, the team has made remarkable strides. Compared to the stalwart programs of Tempe Prep athletics—such as football and basketball—senior outfielder Hayden Harden believes “[baseball] is definitely a competitive sport now,” and that “it’s definitely established its place.”
The Knights baseball program has also experienced a change at the managerial position this year, as Tom Kandler—TPA’s third coach in four years—steps in for the departed Ron Davini, who first guided the Knights to winning ways. Harden, who is the Division IV-leader in stolen bases, feels Coach Kandler “is a great fit for TPA” and “understands the way TPA works,” as well as acknowledges the importance of him bringing experience as a coach to the team.
Throughout the 2014 season, the Knights have not necessarily relied on a flashy offense, but instead have used their tremendous grit to reach base and scratch out runs at every opportunity. Coach Kandler maintains that Tempe Prep has “depended on team speed, not giving up big innings and playing sound defense so far this season. We don’t have a lot of power in our line up so we have to manufacture runs and so far we have done a great job of that.”
Junior Max Dallyn has particularly shined through fourteen league games, posting an impressive .553 batting average and a team-leading .809 slugging percentage, and fulfilling admirably the role of driving in runs: the catcher leads the team in RBI with 31, a total ranking among the best in Division IV.
Another junior, Dominic Amorose, has also stepped up and had a greater impact for the Knights, progressing into the role as the number-one pitching option for the team. In six league starts, he has gone a perfect 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA, relying on a signature-pitch curveball and backing it up with a decent fastball.
Amorose’s development as a strong ace of the staff bears even greater importance as he had to take the reins from former star pitcher Forest Redlin, the first TPA baseball player to go on and play at the college level. Teammate Hayden Harden affirms that “Dominic has handled it very well. He’s a different kind of pitcher than Forest. Amorose gets more outs with balls in play, [with] groundballs and flyballs.” While Redlin was a strikeout pitcher who just powered through batters, “[Amorose] is a little more finesse.”
For senior infielder Ryan Whalen—who has also emerged as a key component of the pitching staff in his first action on the mound since his freshman year—the departure of the team’s former top player even had a positive effect. “This year, we lost Forest [Redlin] who obviously was the best player. It’s had to be a lot more of a team effort, which I think has been good for us. It’s made us more multi-dimensional as a team, which I think will serve us well for the rest of the season.”
As his first season at the helm approaches the playoffs, Coach Kandler believes “[the team is] building a program that hopefully will become one of the best small school programs in the state. With a strong junior high program and the addition of a Junior Varsity schedule I think we are well on our way to that.” Whalen adds that he’s “really excited to see what [the team is] going to do. I think that if we play really well we can win state. I think that’s a possibility…anybody’s beatable [in our division]”.
*Published on April 23rd.