Salpointe had more players suffering from the flu than the amount of runs the Lancers scored against Casa Grande Vista Grande on Wednesday night in a 4A state playoff game at Amphi High School.
The tally was six ailing players against three runs.
The flu could not beat this resilient Salpointe team, and neither did Vista Grande. The Lancers captured their 13th win in their last 14 games with a 3-2 victory over their 4A Kino rivals of which they are 3-0 against this season.
Salpointe (23-6) moves on to the quarterfinal round May 8 awaiting to play the winner of Saturday’s game between Vista Grande and Scottsdale Saguaro — the two teams the Lancers have beaten in the playoffs. The site for Salpointe’s game next week is slated for Diablo Stadium in Tempe at 4 p.m.
“We’re passing it around like the plague around here, good God,” Salpointe coach Danny Preble said of his players suffering from the flu. “They’re tough-minded, tough-willed. They don’t like to lose.”
Salpointe’s Jose “Jojo” Cornejo is one of the ill, barely able to talk and breathe normally after Wednesday night.
Cornejo’s leadoff double in the bottom of the sixth allowed Salpointe to counter-punch Vista’s game-tying run in the top half of the inning. Cornejo was replaced by pinch-runner Javi Aguiar, who moved to third base on a perfect sacrifice bunt laid down by catcher/relief pitcher Ryan Grabosch.
After a pitching change by Vista Grande, Aguiar scored on a single up the middle by Ian Ponce to put the Lancers ahead 3-2.
“(The win) is huge, it puts us in a good spot in the playoffs,” Cornejo said. “We can get some rest (not playing a game until next week). I’m not feeling well right now but we battled through this. We’re just happy right now we got the win.”
.@LancerHardball slugger Jojo Cornejo fought through the flu to hit a big leadoff double in the 6th that led to the go-ahead run scored in the 3-2 win over Vista Grande. Then he had to manage through some prankster teammates for this interview. pic.twitter.com/eFWG3KaiaX
The game did not have 23 runs like Monday’s 14-9 rollercoaster win over Saguaro at Hi Corbett Field, but it carried on the same theme of resilience for the Lancers.
In that game, Salpointe led 8-0 into the fifth before it allowed nine runs in that inning. The Lancers immediately fought back in the fifth with three runs and two more insurance runs in the sixth to pull away.
Wednesday night, after Vista Grande rallied for a run in the top of the sixth to tie the game, Salpointe immediately responded with the big hits by Cornejo and Ponce.
“I just had to provide for my team,” said Ponce, who went 3 for 3 in the game. “We were going into the seventh so I had to get some clearance for our pitchers. I tried to do my best to get the run in.”
Of the Lancers’ resiliency after taking a shot from the other team, Ponce added, “We have a really great mindset. We keep positive vibes. We never bring each other down; we always pick each other up and try to move on.”
With a game not for another week, Preble had a prolonged meeting with his team deep in the outfield at Amphi following the victory.
The topic of discussion? Resiliency.
“That’s been the theme for us in the state tournament,” he said. “Very, very tough-willed. … Things have to come together at the right time. It’s a perfect storm and you have to have your pieces of good luck here and there.
“Things are coming together nicely for these guys.”
Ian Ponce shined at the plate with the game-winning RBI single in the 6th for @LancerHardball and earlier in CF tracking down a hard-hit liner and doubling up a runner at first on the same play. pic.twitter.com/oG9uAQffeN
No better example of that toughness than third baseman/relief stopper Cade McGee.
His aunt passed away on Tuesday and he overcame the difficulty with that by getting Vista Grande out 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh for his second save in three days. On Monday, after Saguaro produced nine runs in the fifth inning, he took the mound in the sixth and blanked the Sabercats in the last two innings.
“I know that affected him,” Preble said of the death of McGee’s aunt. “I think he might have used that a little bit for him tonight. He may have tried a bit too hard at the plate. He threw the ball well in the seventh.”
The week off will allow McGee, a sophomore, to reflect and his teammates to rest as well as prepare for final exams next week.
“No. 1 is health — we have to get these guys healthy,” Preble said. “No. 2, we’re getting ready graduate. We have to give these guys a little bit of a break, make sure their academics are in order.”
Tucson’s other team in the 4A state tournament — CDO — lost 3-1 to Estrella Foothills at Diablo Stadium in a losers’ bracket game yesterday. The Dorados finished the season 20-8.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.