In a game boiling down to the final pitch, the No. 2 Mesquite Wildcats defeated the No. 4 Salpointe Catholic Lancers 2-1 Monday at the 4A State Championship game played at Tempe Diablo Stadium. A highly-anticipated re-match of the 2019 State Championship, where Salpointe downed Mesquite 4-3 to win the state championship, the Wildcats were able to walk away with it this time to put a cap on the 2021 season. It was a crushing loss for the Lancers, who seemingly defied the odds to reach the championship.
“I told them after the game, ‘There’s not another group I’d want to go to battle with.’ You know, they battled for seven innings, they battled since day one with all the protocols… They’ve endured a lot, and they battled through it and they got to this point, which is the pinnacle, but it isn’t for a lack of effort,” coach Danny Preble said.
Mesquite got out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second on a sacrifice fly to left-center field, but that was all they were able to do as the Salpointe pitching by senior Dawson McHughes remained solid. In the top of the third, it looked as if Salpointe might be able to strike back as senior Cade McGee was walked with a runner already on first, but the Lancers were stranded on base.
The Lancers once again looked as if they may be able to put runs on the board in the top of the fourth after three runners were walked in the inning, but another strikeout brought it to the middle of the fourth. Mesquite came back out with bats swinging, with senior Chris Robles smacking a line drive to right field, allowing senior Jake McCormick to score, putting Mesquite on top 2-0.
Leaving multiple runners stranded on base was a reoccurring struggle for the Lancers on Monday, as Salpointe once again had the bases loaded but couldn’t drive home a run.
In the bottom of the fifth, things got off to a bit of a rocky start for McHughes on the mound, as he walked the first batter up, junior Keeton Bell, before Thomas Vogiatzis was able to find a hole in the outfield and get on base. After a meeting at the mound, McHughes and the Lancers were able to refocus and close out the inning strong, even preventing a run by throwing out the player on base as he attempted to make it across home plate.
There was a strong sense in the shift of the momentum at the top of the sixth, led off by senior Alex Londono’s hit to left field for a single. Londono was then able to steal second. Before long, Salpointe once again had bases loaded with two outs, but this time the Lancers were able to do something with it. On a wild pitch by senior reliever Luis Morales, Salpointe was able to take home plate to make it 1-0 with two on and one out.
Another walk left Salpointe with bases loaded once again, however a pop fly brought things to the middle of the sixth inning. Mesquite came out and went down in order, putting just three outs between the Wildcats and the title.
Salpointe Catholic scores on a wild pitch. The Lancers still trailing 2-1 in the top of the 6th pic.twitter.com/GMzMFaomAe
— Brittany Bowyer (@bbowyer07) May 18, 2021
The Lancers gave it their best effort in their final at bats, but ultimately struggled to get the job done, taking home the runner-up trophy. After the cancellation of last season, and the uncertainty stemming from the continued challenges of navigating COVID, coach Preble feels it was a blessing to even be at this point.
“It’s incredible, the greatest bunch of dudes that we’ve been around. Twenty-seven guys in that dugout. It took us a while to figure it out, but we got to the point where we were 27 strong,” Preble said.
With more than a dozen graduating seniors, the Lancers are certainly going to feel their absence next year. The Lancers will work to fill in the gaps, and Preble’s expectations are for the returning players to help fill in the gaps and step up through the mentality and skill sets the class of 2021 helped to develop.
”This senior class, the first word that comes to mind is ‘wow’. We’ve been a part of these guys’ lives now for a long time, five or six of them we’ve had since little league when they were eight and nine years old. It’s been the ultimate honor to be able to coach them,” Preble said.
Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @bbowyer07