Cienega boosts playoff hopes with win over 3A South champ Sabino

A 5A baseball team playing at home upset a 3A opponent on Monday.

Cienega, a 5A Sonoran team, entered on a three-game losing streak, while 3A South champion Sabino was on an eight-game winning streak.

The Sabercats (12-4) already clinched the 3A South title with a 10-0 region record, thereby guaranteeing a spot in the 3A state playoffs. The Bobcats (6-7) are in search of a high enough rating to make the 16-team 5A state playoff field.

Cienega centerfielder Isaiah Jackson and left-handed starter Ryan Garcia are promising Class of 2022 prospects (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“Any win we can get right now is good,” Cienega coach Kelly Johnson said after his team defeated Sabino 7-3. “Beating a team like Sabino definitely will help. Coming off a week where we went 0-3, this is a good boost to finish up the last part of the season.”

Cienega entered Monday ranked No. 19 in the 5A, three spots out of the playoffs. The power rankings are updated every day based on results.

Sabino was rated No. 2 among 3A teams, right below top-ranked Valley Christian, which beat the Sabercats 6-4 at Sabino on Saturday.

Sabino coach Shane Folsom has only one remaining regular season game, at 4A power Salpointe on April 30. The Lancers (10-1) are ranked No. 4 among 4A schools.

“We’ve had a tough stretch here,” Folsom said. “We played Friday night in Safford and then we played early Saturday against Valley Christian, who’s No. 1 in the state and then we rolled in today. I think the boys are a little tired and our arms are a little sore and stuff like that.

“I don’t know if necessarily it was a focus thing (having already clinched the 3A South region championship). These kids all know each other so I know they wanted to beat each other. It’s just been a tough stretch for us.”

Standing just a few feet away from Folsom were a string of Cienega and Sabino players locked arm and arm posing for photos.

Sabino’s Tyler Welsh stood beside Cienega’s Cole Butler and Devin Lopez and next to them was Sabino starting pitcher Jake Wiltshire. Cienega center fielder Isaiah Jackson, an ASU commit, stood beside Wiltshire as they were all smiles after Jackson hit a double and triple off the right-hander. The chain continued with Sabino’s Nathan Ortiz, Cienega’s Jordan Bracamonte, Sabino’s Dylan Bradford and Cienega’s Braeden Mondeau.

Wiltshire, a senior who is bound for New Mexico State, batted leadoff and went 3 for 3 with two runs and a stolen base. He pitched 5 1/3 innings allowed scattered eight hits with four earned runs. He had three strikeouts and four walks.

“He’s been pitching really well for us,” Folsom said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do on the mound and he’s done a great job of pitching.”

Bradford, a centerfielder who bats No. 2 in the lineup behind Wiltshire, is headed for Washington State. He went 1 for 2 with an RBI double.

Bradford’s counterpart in centerfield, Jackson, was highly productive.

The younger brother of Los Angeles Dodgers pitching prospect Andre Jackson, formerly of Cienega and the Utah Utes, showed why he is one of the top Class of 2022 players in the state heading to Tempe to play for the Sun Devils.

He went 2 for 2 with an RBI double and triple, three runs, a stolen base and an important assist from center field in the sixth inning when it appeared Sabino was putting together a rally with two outs down 5-3.

After Wiltshire doubled, Bradford hit a gapper to left-center field that escaped Jackson’s diving attempt. Jackson gathered himself, retrieved the ball and threw a dart to Ryan Faltz at third base to thwart Bradford’s attempt at a triple.

“Honestly, I’ve been struggling this whole season, the team has been struggling too, so I just came in excited, just trying to hype everybody up,” said Jackson, who is batting .310 through 13 games. “Got some pitches to hit today, so I just drove them.”

Fellow Class of 2022 standout Ryan Garcia, a left-hander with Cienega, has not yet drawn a lot of attention from college recruiters but that should change soon if Monday’s outing was any indication.

Garcia was dominant with nine strikeouts and only two walks in six innings. He scattered six hits in the win.

Right-handed reliever Kasen Lomax entered in the seventh and struck out the side to put an exclamation point on the much-needed win for Cienega’s playoff chances.

“The problem is we have to play better as a team, play together and work together. If playoffs come, they come. If they don’t, they don’t. It’s just getting better as a team, as a whole, and next year, take it all the way,” Garcia said.

Johnson echoed that statement, realizing Cienega does not control its own destiny. A playoff spot might be difficult to achieve with a power rating involved because much is dependent on how other teams fare.

The Bobcats have four remaining games in the regular season and they might have to run the table to have a shot. They host Desert View on Thursday and Marana on Monday before playing at Salpointe on April 28 and Rincon/University on April 29.

“If we don’t get in, that’s okay to me. I will be disappointed, but I am just glad the kids got to play,” Johnson said. “After last year and all summer and fall (dealing with the uncertainty of COVID-19), I just wanted them out here playing.”

Scoring recap:

— Sabino took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third, highlighted by Tyler Delk’s RBI single

— Cienega answered with four runs in the bottom of the third capitalizing on three errors by Sabino. Devin Lopez, who went 2 for 4, had an RBI single and scored a run in the rally.

— The Bobcats increased their lead to 5-2 with one out in the fourth when Jackson tripled and then scored on Caleb Herd’s single.

— Bradford’s RBI double in the sixth got Sabino within 5-3.

— Cienega added two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth behind Jackson’s RBI double and the Bobcats taking advantage of another Sabino error allowing Jackson to score. The Sabercats had five errors that led to three unearned runs.


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.

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