Sun Belt College League

Vail Rebels need one win to claim SBCL title after beating Speedway Gamblers in Game 1

Vail Rebels starter Alex Figuero earned the win in Game 1 of the Sun Belt College League best-of-three championship series against the Speedway Gamblers (Andy Morales/


The Vail Rebels, the No. 1 seed in the Sun Belt College League playoffs, are facing a challenge in the championship series by the upstart Speedway Gamblers, who finished last (sixth place) in the standings during the regular season.

The Gamblers continued their momentum in the first inning Tuesday after upsetting the No. 3-seed Old Tucson Gauchos in the play-in game and No. 2 Catalina Aztecs winning the first two games in that best-of-three semifinal series.

The two runs scored by the Gamblers in the top of the first inning Tuesday did not hold up, however, as the Rebels scored all 13 of their runs in the first and sixth innings, sending 21 batters to the plate combined in those innings, to cruise to a 13-3 run-rule win in seven innings.

The second game of the best-of-three championship series is Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Kino Annex Field No. 7.

“It’s cool; everybody cares about it (winning the SBCL title). Whenever I step on the field, I want to win,” said Rebels center fielder Isaiah Jackson, the Cienega grad and ASU signee who earlier in the day was drafted in the 18th round by the Houston Astros.

Vail Rebels center fielder Isaiah Jackson played in the first game of the Sun Belt College League championship series against the Speedway Gamblers after getting drafted in the 18th round by the Houston Astros earlier in the day (Andy Morales/

Gamblers outfielder Milo Rushford, who has signed with New Mexico State out of Walden Grove, was also selected in the 18th round by the Kansas City Royals. Rushford was not in attendance Wednesday, tending to personal matters. He may return for Game 2.

The Gamblers face the daunting task of keeping the series alive against a Vail team that has not lost in its last eight games. They are 6-0-2 in that span with one of the ties coming against the Gamblers last week.

“Gettting ahead (1-0) in the series is always big,” said Vail starting right-hander Alex Figueroa, a Catalina Foothills graduate. “It puts the pressure on the other team. They have to outperform us and we just have to keep rolling.”

Figueroa earlier in the day committed to Cochise College, where he will join Rebels teammate Jacob Wiltshire, a former Sabino High School standout, at the Douglas school.

Wiltshire, who belted a three-run home run Tuesday night in the sixth inning, is transferring to Cochise after playing his freshman season at New Mexico State.

They will join Wiltshire’s former Sabino teammate, Dylan Bradford, an outfielder, at Cochise next season.

“They’ve been watching me for over a year now,” Figueroa said of Cochise. “They’ve been watching my high school games, and just recently, they told me that they wanted me — I’ll be heading there as a two-way player (also plays in the infield and outfield).”

Figueroa’s father Ron, who serves on Vail’s coaching staff helping the pitchers, also played at Cochise.

“Being that I played there, it’s just still good baseball anywhere you go — JUCO, Arizona, top notch,” Ron said. “That’s what you’re looking for. He’s excited to go down there.”

Alex Figueroa settled down after allowing two runs in the top of the first inning to the Gamblers on a RBI triple by Cougar Cooke (Show Low/Utah Valley) and a run-scoring single by Dominic Felix (CDO/New Mexico).

The Rebels’ six-run first helped the younger Figueroa.

Vail’s big hitters in the inning included Nick Arias (Tucson High/Grand Canyon) with an RBI triple, Wiltshire with a run-scoring single, Mario Bejarano (Tucson/Central Arizona) an RBI single and Jackson a two-run double that hit off the left field fence.

Show Low graduate Cougar Cooke, a shortstop headed to Utah Valley, is the son of former Flowing Wells and Arizona basketball player Troy Cooke, who was part of Lute Olson’s first team at Arizona in 1983-84 (Andy Morales/

What made Vail’s first-inning rally even more impressive is it came against hard-throwing right-hander Isaac Silva, an Eastern Arizona pitcher who has a 1.97 ERA with 78 strikeouts and 22 walks in 45 innings this summer.

Jackson returned to the Rebels after taking a week off leading up to the draft to work out and avoid injury, so it says something about his ability to face a pitcher with a 94-mph fastball and nearly belt a home run in his first live at-bat after awhile.

“I was able to put the barrel on the ball; it felt good,” said Jackson, a left-handed batter whose deep fly in the third inning was caught on the warning track to right field.

The Gamblers cut the lead to 6-3 in the second inning following Leonel Villa’s leadoff triple and score on Octavio Mendivil‘s sacrifice fly to center field but Alex Figueroa got in a groove thereafter. Villa is a Walden Grove graduate and Mendivil graduated from Chula Vista (Calif.) Ranch High School.

Alex Figueroa retired 12 of the next 13 batters after Villa’s triple before being relieved by Jordan Bracamonte (Cienega) after five innings. Alex scattered four hits while allowing three runs with two walks and three strikeouts.

“In the beginning, I just tried to find the zone and just needed to slow myself down,” Alex said. “I figured that out after the first inning. I just took deep breaths. Took it one by one and ended up finding the zone.”

Vail’s knock-out seven-run rally in the sixth inning included Wiltshire’s three-run blast to left field with two outs after Angel Ochoa (Sahuarita/Southeast Oklahoma State) hit a run-scoring double.

Wiltshire was a driving force behind Sabino winning the state titles in 2019 and 2021, and he was named the SBCL MVP last year when he led the Santa Rita Warthogs to an upset victory over the Catalina Aztecs in the championship series.

“It feels amazing,” Wiltshire said of his home run. “It’s just hard work but it feels good.”

His transfer to Cochise was made to give him more opportunities to start and play to further develop as a player after starting four games and having 21 at-bats for the Aggies last season.

Wiltshire said he felt like he has “grown as a player a lot thanks to coaches at New Mexico State — can’t thank them enough.”

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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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