FLORENCE — In the spring of 2017, a group of 10 freshmen led San Tan Foothills to the 2A state quarterfinals.

The following year, those same freshmen were part of a core group of sophomores that led the Sabercats to the 2A state championship, where they fell 6-4 in 10 innings to Phoenix Christian.

As juniors, that group and the Sabercats moved up to 3A, where they lost to Kingman Academy 1-0 in 13 innings in the play-in round.

But now those players are seniors, and the only two players left from the 2017 team are Damien Lyon and Trevyn Badger.

San Tan Foothills coach Ryan Sutterby didn’t say if the pressure is on to win the championship with the seniors. Instead, he said last year with the move to a new conference, it might have overwhelmed them a bit, especially coming so close to a championship a year earlier.

“Anytime you have expectations, it can lead to anxiety, and I think last year the expectations from the year before, it got them a little anxious and got a little fearful of coming to 3A,” he said. “I would like to think that the difference this year is can we overcome this and move forward.”

Leading the Sabercats this year will be Badger and Lyon, along with fellow seniors Frankie Gulko and Logan Biesemeyer.

Gulko led the team with a 7-2 record and a 0.93 ERA in 60 1/3 innings pitched while striking out 82 hitters and walking 27. Badger had a slash line of .394/.450/.636 with two home runs, 14 doubles and 22 RBIs.

“This is about what we expected,” Sutterby said following his team’s 9-0 win over Thatcher on Thursday at the Joe Padilla Tournament in Florence.

The win improved the Sabercats’ record to 2-0. “The pitching has been really strong, and our offense has been coming along strong. We have some freshmen starting for us. That’s been good. They have been pushing some guys. Our seniors have been good leaders for us and the two juniors.”

Just like four years ago when a group of freshmen led the Sabercats, Sutterby has another group of freshmen that could see some playing time, including Dmitry Finch and Matthew Rodriguez.

“You know what’s really cool about San Tan Foothills? Every year that I’ve been here, I’ve started freshmen. We had six freshmen start that first year with that group. The next year I had two freshmen and last year I had one freshman,” Sutterby said.

Other freshmen who could contribute this year include Roy Kimble Martin, Cameron Hawkins, Christian Pascaul and Beau Cotherman.

“It’s really cool to see how the seniors and freshmen come together as a team,” Sutterby said. “The seniors lead the freshmen, and the freshmen work their way up to by the time they are seniors, they are leading the next group.”

San Tan Foothills will also welcome newcomer Desean Halwood, a junior who transferred from Phoenix Arcadia. Sutterby said Halwood won’t have to sit out the customary games, as a hardship waiver was approved.

Another player to make a big impact for the Sabercats will be Tanner White. Sutterby said the junior has been overshadowed by Badger and Gulko but posted a 6-2 record with a 1.84 ERA in 45 2/3 innings pitched in 2019. He struck out 55 hitters while walking just five.

“He’s going to be a guy to look for. He’s been ranked in the Top 20 in the class of 2021,” Sutterby said. “Frankie and Trevyn have overshadowed him, but he’s been the secret weapon. We call him the professor. He just pants the corners. He can pitch backwards and forwards. Everyone looks at the sexy stats of strikeouts and what those guys are doing.”

San Tan Foothills opened the season earlier this week at the Joe Padilla tournament in Florence with a pair of wins over Globe and Thatcher.

The Sabercats open the regular season (games that count toward power points) at Gilbert Christian on Monday and will have four road games before finally playing their home opener March 24 against Sahuarita, last year’s 3A state runner-up.

San Tan Foothills opens 3A Central region play March 25 at Florence.

“This year I think we are much better team,” Sutterby said. “Last year we had great talent, but we called ourselves a mediocre team with great talent. Our focus this year has really been on building on the team part of it.”