The Spanish Springs Cougars went out and took it. Spanish Springs won the second
regional baseball crown in the school’s 10-year history. It’s been an exciting past week for the Cougars baseball program but anyone who thought the SSHS nine was a shoe-in for a North championship was fooling themselves.
“I knew when we got going in late February we could be very good,” first-year Spanish Springs baseball coach Ben Hofmann said. “But I’d be lying to you if I said I thought we’d be going to state.”
And yet, that’s exactly where Spanish Springs is headed: the Nevada 4A State Tournament. The Cougars open state tourney play today with a 3 p.m. first-round game against Rancho, a Las Vegas school that won the Sunrise Region championship. The Community College of Southern Nevada is the tournament’s host venue.
While the Cougars started the regular season strong and are playing pretty well right now, they certainly did not sail through it. In fact, they lost three of four games during a five-day stretch in the final week before the regional tournament.
“I was pretty concerned two weeks ago,” said Hofmann, who had been a long-time Cougars assistant before taking over the reins to the program this spring. “At that point I thought, talent-wise, we were good enough to get to state but we were playing pretty uninspired baseball. I’ve got to give credit to a few of our seniors, who got us together and got it going.
“They had a players-only meeting, got things ironed out and recommitted themselves to the final stretch.”
Hofmann also pointed out that the final game on his team’s regular season schedule was played at Aces Ballpark, home of the AAA Reno Aces. Spanish Springs and McQueen met in that regular season finale for both schools on May 6, when both teams had playoff seeding riding on the line.
The Cougars coach stressed that by playing the game at Aces Ballpark, it gave it a special feeling and fostered a playoff atmosphere, which he believes helped re-focus his squad for postseason play. Spanish Springs, which was in a skid at the time, won that game 15-3 and clinched a first-round home playoff game in the process.
That paid dividends as Spanish Springs buried Carson in that first-round home game, 16-0, to win just its second first-round playoff game ever. The other came in 2005.
Leadership has not been a problem this spring for the Cougars’ experienced, talent-laden team. In fact, it’s been a strength. But there might have been some uncertainty at the top, more so because Hofmann was taking over as head coach after serving as an assistant to veteran head coach Mike Bosco the previous nine seasons.
In the end, Hofmann believes it was a pretty seamless transition.
“It absolutely helped that I had been in the program already,” Hofmann said. “Mike and I share a lot of the same philosophies so it was a pretty easy transition for the boys.
“I didn’t change a whole lot. Mike and I had been together 10 years so our coaching styles are pretty similar. Maybe, if anything is different, I gave the kids a little more freedom on the field. But I only did that because we had such an experienced senior group.”
Spanish Springs (26-9) is going to state for the first time since 2005, its only other trip to the state tournament. That year, Spanish Springs lost two games and was quickly eliminated. Against a talented field that includes Rancho (31-5), defending state champion Bishop Gorman (32-4) and Green Valley (31-7), Spanish Springs faces big challenges no matter who it plays in the coming days.
So what are the Cougars’ expectations for the state tournament?
“We are only focusing on winning that first game against Rancho,” Hofmann said. “We’ll worry about the next one if we get there … Rancho is very good. They have two or three guys that throw pretty hard. They can hit up and down the lineup. They will be tough to beat.”
The Spanish Springs caravan left campus at noon Wednesday and headed south for Clark County. The team got into Vegas last night and is set to work out Thursday morning at Basic High prior to its afternoon tourney tilt. Cougars coaches hope the long trek on a school bus is not a deterrent to playing well.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Hofmann said in an interview Tuesday. “We’ll get in late, around 9-10. Then we’ll get up and get moving, work out at Basic. I’m hoping getting there the day before and working out before the game will bring some normalcy.”
You can also bet he hopes his normal solid starting pitching and timely hitting show up when the first pitch is delivered.