No. 1 Nogales forced to 5A elimination game after losing in 9 innings to Desert Mountain

MESA — Top-seeded Nogales lost 5-3 in nine innings in its 5A semfinal game Wednesday night against Scottsdale Desert Mountain, but the very start of the game is what adversely affected the Apaches in coach O.J. Favela’s mind.

Three errors and a balk in the second inning contributed to two runs for the Wolves, who benefitted from an impeccable pitching performance by senior right-hander Cooper Weeks. He threw a one-hitter in his 6-plus innings of work.

“We weren’t very good today; we were a very average team,” Favela said. “We made some mistakes. We didn’t execute … but hopefully they’ll clear their heads tonight and bounce right back tomorrow.

“If they get ready to play tomorrow, I don’t think that we play like this on back-to-back nights.”

Nogales meets with coach O.J. Favela after its 5-3 loss in nine innings to Desert Mountain on Wednesday night (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

The Apaches (30-3) stayed in Mesa overnight and will play No. 9 Desert Mountain (22-9) for the third time in the playoffs Thursday night in a do-or-die game at HoHoKam Stadium at 6:30 p.m. The winner plays in the championship game Tuesday against Buckeye Verrado at 4 p.m. at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Nogales had its 10-game winning streak snapped with Wednesday’s loss. Desert Mountain has worked its way back in the elimination bracket after losing at Nogales in a third-round game last week.

“Our hard work, dedication and mental toughness showed right there in those key moments,” Desert Mountain coach Ryan Dyer said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them. The guys stepped up tonight. Talk about the effort from Cooper Weeks tonight — one-hitter through six innings and then we almost lose the game.

“And then we got (reliever) James Hunter coming in and closing the door, so I am very proud of him tonight. Glad to get this one.”

Nogales was subdued by Weeks until the seventh, when Derek Montijo reached on a fielding error to lead off the inning and Julio Ramos walked. Weeks was then relieved and Nogales’ rally mounted.

Luis Martin Romero walked to load the bases and Robert Gallego and Demetrio Crisantes followed with walks to force in two runs to cut the lead to 3-2.

The first out occurred on Gerard Paco’s sacrifice fly to centerfield that scored Romero with the tying run. A hit-by-pitch loaded the bases again before Luke Moeller worked out of the jam by getting the last two batters to strike out and fly out.

“We scored off some balls, but we didn’t put any pressure on them as far as putting the ball in play,” Favela said. “There were easy outs with bases loaded. We were one one hit away with one out. A sacrifice flight could have won it.”

Nogales again loaded the bases in the eighth inning after a single by Montijo, who advanced to second base on the second out — a grounder to first base. Gallego walked and then Dyer loaded the bases by intentionally walking Crisantes, who was batting .500 entering the game and broke up Weeks’ no-hitter in the fifth inning with a double.

Hunter got the next batter to ground out to shortstop to end the threat.

Desert Mountain broke through with two runs in the ninth on Kyle Pettigrew’s two-run single with one out that occurred after Grant Madrid-Murray singled and Sean Strittmatter reached on a fielding error to start the inning.

A ground out advanced Madrid-Murray and Strittmatter and an intentional walk to Cooper McKee preceded Pettigrew’s first-pitch hit to center field.

Hunter retired the side in the ninth for the victory.

“The game was everything we expected it to be,” Dyer said. “We know that they’re the best team in Arizona right now and to beat them we have to be our best. Tonight, we were close to that and we got away with the lucky win with some guys stepping up like James Hunter there at the end on the mound to solidify the win.

“We’re very excited to get the win. Again, hats off to the Nogales team and coach OJ because they are where they’re at because they’re the best.”

Weeks finished with the one-hitter in six innings with five walks and five strikeouts.

Nogales started right-hander Roman Bracamonte, who entered with an 8-0 record and 1.27 ERA. Scouts from the Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves were on hand to watch him pitch as well as grade others, including Crisantes, a shortstop who has signed with Chip Hale’s program at Arizona.

After Bracamonte retired the side in the first inning, things went a awry in the second inning.

Pettigrew led off with a walk and moved to second inning on an errant pickoff attempt. Drew Kasianko’s grounder toward shortstop resulted in a fielding error and Pettigrew scored from second base.

Another pickoff attempt of Kasianko at first resulted in a balk, allowing him to move to second. He advanced to third base on a ground out.

Jackson Maples then reached on a single, scoring Kasianko for the 2-0 lead.

Maples scored Desert Mountain’s run in the seventh to increase the lead to 3-0. He was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, moved to second on pickoff-attempt error and advanced to third on a fly out to center field. Strittmatter’s single forced him home.

Bracamonte scattered four hits in five innings while striking out seven and walking one.

Favela mentioned he will start either sophomore left-hander Salvador Valenzuela (8-0, 0.33 ERA in 43 innings) or senior right-hander Saul Soto (6-0, 1.51) in the decisive game Thursday. Dyer said it will be “Staff City” for him after using multiple pitchers in the 7-2 win Monday at Peoria Sunrise Mountain and Wednesday night.

Favela said that although his pitching situation might be advantageous, it won’t mean anything if Nogales plays erratically again.

“We’ll see. We’ve got to execute,” he said. “We’ve got to perform a lot better.”


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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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