QUEEN CREEK — There was a lot to think about on the bus ride home for the Tucson Badgers on Tuesday evening following the game against the Queen Creek Bulldogs.
In a high-stakes game leading up to the playoffs, poor pitching gave the Bulldogs a 14-8 come-from-behind win over the Badgers despite a strong night at the plate. After the loss, the Badgers’ record now sits at 8-3 overall with seven games remaining in the regular season.
Tucson coach Mike Morris says these are mistakes the Badgers can’t afford to make.
“Like I told the boys, ‘We’re the only Tucson team to make noise up in this division, so we can’t afford to make mistakes,’” Morris said. “We gave up eight runs on routine mistakes and we can’t do that, not with the senior class that we’ve got. They’ve played four years at this level.”
Things appeared to be in favor of Tucson early, as the Badgers took a quick 3-0 lead in the first inning. Queen Creek’s first three went down in a row, setting a strong tone for the Badgers to start the second inning.
Francisco Rojo Quiroz got things going with a lead-off single to center field. Later on in the inning with two outs, Isaac Ramirez was walked leading up to Mario Bejarano’s two-run RBI double to give the Badgers a 5-0 lead and force a change at the mound.
Next to bat for the Badgers was Ruben Villaescusa, who hammered in an RBI-double to make it 6-0 before the Bulldogs could snag the third out.
Ready to rally, Queen Creek came out swinging.
With a lead-off home run, the Bulldogs were able to get the goose egg off the board and kickstart the energy into high gear. A single, followed by a double, put two runners in scoring position with no outs.
Tucson called a mound meeting, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. A two-run RBI single made it 6-3 with Tucson still leading, but Morris decided it was time for a change and sent Ayden Escarrega to the mound to finish out the inning.
However, after giving up a walk, Queen Creek was able to score once again, this time on a wild pitch before allowing a runner to steal home on a ground out to make it 6-5.
In the top of the fourth, Tucson was able to tack on three more runs on a ball hit out of the park by Bejarano to make it 8-5 as both teams continued to fight for the momentum.
It initially looked like it was going to be a quick inning for Escarrega, but the blinding sun prevented the right fielder from being able to clearly see the ball as it fell right in front of his glove as he dove for it. A few batters later, a three-run homer tied things up at 8 as the Bulldogs were staking their claim.
Frustrated with himself, Escarrega was tossed for the game for comments he made about his play out loud, bringing up freshman Juan Hernandez to the mound to close out the inning.
“When you have a good team down, you have to continue to put pressure on them,” Morris said. “Then we let them back in there, and the pitcher lost his composure and the umpire throws him out. You know, pitchers are going to get upset. We talked about it. You just can’t let the umpire dictate who you are.”
Knowing it was an important inning, Morris encouraged the squad to buckle down and focus. Despite getting men on base in the top of the fifth, Tucson couldn’t drive them home, keeping things knotted up as time was running out.
It was in the bottom of the fifth where the Bulldogs were able to break away to their first lead of the game. A two-run RBI double made it 10-8 Queen Creek with no outs, forcing yet another pitching change for the Badgers.
Freshman Gennaro Brito was next up on the mound, where he was able to close out the inning without additional damage.
Knowing it was a critical time to close in on the lead, Queen Creek sent out one of its stronger relievers who sent the Badgers down in-a-row looking.
The game really slipped out of reach for Tucson in the bottom of the sixth. First, an error at third base allowed two runners to cross home, extending it to 12-8. After that, Brito walked the next three batters, two of them advancing runners on third across home plate to make it 14-8.
“The pitchers have to stop the bleeding at some point, and we didn’t do that today and that’s how it ends up being 14,” Morris said. “We preach to our guys all the time that you have to put your foot down, you have to get us in the dugout, and unfortunately our guys didn’t do that today.”
Tucson attempted to rally in the top of the seventh, but it was already too late. Sending in their closer, the Bulldogs were able to pick up a big win over the Badgers with the playoffs lurking just around the corner.
“We can’t afford to lose,” Morris said. “We’re gonna play a couple more tough teams and then the playoffs are going to show up. … It’s hard enough to get into the top eight because of our schedule back home.”
The Badgers will be looking to rebound from the loss on Friday when they play Cienega before taking on Brophy College Prep next Tuesday.
Due to his ejection from the game, Escarrega will be forced to sit for the next two games. With Escarrega sidelined, it elevates the pressure on the pitching rotation as they’ll be testing their mental grit.
“We talked about how we respond to failure,” Morris said. “We made mistakes, we let a good baseball team back into the game… So, now you flush it and you come out and you’ve gotta put your best foot forward against Cienega.”
Tucson’s game against Cienega on Friday is set to begin at 6 p.m.