First, it needs to be said that junior Brandon Matthews of the Ironwood Ridge baseball team is ITAL not ITAL related to teammates Clay Matthews and Jake Matthews.
Clay and Jake are brothers. Brandon is an only child.
"They call me B-Matt," Brandon said.
Secondly, Brandon Matthews was named to the all-Southern Arizona first team by the Arizona Daily Star. He led the Nighthawks in all three of the Triple Crown categories, including batting average at .444, home runs with seven and runs batted in with 36.
"Brandon had a pretty good year," said Nighthawks coach Jason Hisey. "His biggest strength is his offense. He's also a Division I-caliber outfielder as well."
Finishing 21-11 was very impressive for the Nighthawks in Hisey's second season as head coach, especially after starting the season 0-4.
"We never gave up," Matthews said. "We came out of it."
"It was our first 20-win season," Matthews said. "Last year was 17-14. What changed this year is we knew where we can be." Ridge also won its regional title with a record of 11-1.
The team's other leading hitters were Zach Sweety at .439 and Alex Worden at .397.
"We liked Sweety and Worden," said pitcher Trey Higgenbotham. "So we respected them. They didn't have to be in the limelight. They just played in the game." Sweety was named to the second-team all-Southern Arizona squad.
Ironwood Ridge won two and lost two during the 5A-II double-elimination tournament.
"Our chances of going to state were good," Matthews said. "We had to win that first game to have a chance."
The Nighthawks opened the playoffs with a slugfest, downing rival Sunnyside, 11-10, aided by two home runs by Matthews. The Blue Devils hit three long balls in the last two innings to take the lead. It took a run-scoring single by freshman Trey Stine to win it in the bottom of the seventh.
"We had a lot of clutch hitting," said assistant coach Nathan Orelup.
After a second playoff win, a loss threw the Nighthawks into the loser's bracket. They were eliminated by Tempe Marcos de Niza, 10-8.
"They scored all their runs in one inning," Hisey said.
Higgenbotham pointed out the "one bad inning" syndrome was a recurring problem.
In their only regional loss, the Nighthawks lost to Sunnyside, while resting players for the playoffs, which were starting just a few days later. The final score was 22-10, but nine of the runs came in the third inning.
"Take out the one inning against Sunnyside, and it's only 13-10," Higgenbotham said.
"It takes the momentum away. You're not going to win many games giving 20 runs away."
Matthews likes where the Nighthawks stand, and where they appear headed going into his senior season, thanks to coach Hisey.
"Hisey has a goal in mind. He does whatever he can to get the goal. We practice a lot.
"Nothing will get in his way. The best nine hitters play."
Players put in the work in early-morning practices and after-game drills. They even help to maintain the field; in fact, Ironwood Ridge was credited with having "field of the year" in 5A-II play.
Matthews was proud of some of the team's accomplishments.
"We won regional for the first time ever," Matthews said. "Being a part of that feels good."
He also enjoyed beating Sunnyside in the playoffs.
"I stayed consistent. I was more focused this year. This year, I was more of a leader."
Hisey's team scored a lot of runs, but struggled on the mound. Matthews, along with Kyle Petty, who led the Nighthawks with a 3.64 ERA, were the top two pitchers.
"What he needs to improve on," Hisey said, "is on the mound. He shows that he's capable of dominating a game either offensively or defensively."
Matthews is a dedicated baseball player.
"Baseball is the only sport I have a passion for," he said. "I'm terrible in basketball.
"I've played baseball since I was three. I love doing it every day. It's something I can't live without."