Sahuarita sophomore Ezra Vidal hits first career walk-off HR, Mustangs advance in 4A playoffs

Sahuarita’s players await Ezra Vidal to reach home plate to celebrate the sophomore’s first career walk-off home run in the 4A first-round game against Douglas (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

SAHUARITA — Ezra Vidal’s first playoff home run Saturday at Sahuarita was a bloody success. Literally.

The Mustangs’ sophomore second baseman blasted the first walk-off home run of his young career and emerged from the wild celebration with his teammates with a bloody nose.

“I didn’t have a bloody nose when I reached home plate,” he said with a smile. “So it must have happened then (when he was rushed by his teammates). That’s fine with me.”

No. 3 Sahuarita’s 3-2 win over No. 15 Douglas in the 4A first round game of the state playoffs had all the dramatic blood, sweat and tears imaginable in a postgame game.

Sahuarita junior designated hitter Dante Johnson contributed to the suspense with a two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game at 2.

The midday game played in 90 degrees was mostly a pitcher’s duel between starters Dominic Hernandez of Sahuarita and Isaac Montano of Douglas.

The Bulldogs, emotional yet also proud after the loss, looked like they could pull off the upset on various occasions but Sahuarita kept battling.

“Guys are never going to give up in the playoffs,” said Sahuarita coach Sam Gelardi, in his 16th season as the head coach. “We beat them twice during the regular season (by scores of 9-1 and 11-1 in 4A Gila games), but they are a quality team. They’re quality coached. Those guys scrap. They gave us everything they could possibly give us.

“They gave us fits. Came down to the ending there … we never gave up … We don’t take anything for granted. Numbers and polls and rankings, they mean nothing when you get to the playoffs.”

Sahuarita will next host No. 6 AZ College Prep (21-5-1) on Monday at 4 p.m. in a second-round game. The Knights ended Sahuaro’s season with a 4-0 victory in Gilbert on Saturday.

The game between Sahuarita and Douglas was scoreless until the Bulldogs’ Diego Sanchez belted a 1-0 pitch over the right-centerfield fence in the fifth inning.

The home run, Sanchez’s first this season, also scored Robert Perez (who walked before Sanchez came to the plate).

Hernandez did not return in the sixth inning, relieved by Misael Valenzuela, who kept the Bulldogs in check the last two innings.

Hernandez scattered four hits while allowing four walks with two strikeouts in his five innings of work. Valenzuela did not allow a hit and struck out two batters. Sanchez took Valenzuela’s last pitch in the seventh inning to the warning track but center fielder Robert Sanchez tracked it down.

Sahuarita was finally able to produce in the sixth inning against Montano, who pitched a masterful game for the most part. He scattered six hits with four strikeouts and a walk in 6 1/3 innings.

Nathan Huie, a junior first baseman who has committed to Arkansas, led off the sixth inning for Sahuarita with a single. Jayden Phillistine pinch-ran for Huie and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Hector Hernandez.

After the next batter flew out to center field for the second out, Johnson came to the plate after striking out his previous two plate appearances. Gelardi added that the coaches contemplated putting in a pinch-hitter for Johnson before the at-bat “because he looked like he was outgunned.”

“They had his number today, the ball was away two times; they made some really good pitches on him,” Gelardi said. “The first two times, they struck him out twice. The third time, Dante struck back.”

Johnson hit a full-count fastball beyond the right field fence to tie the game at 2.

“I was just looking for my pitch; I was looking for something in at the beginning of the at-bat but once the at-bat went on, I had to swing at whatever I could get,” Johnson said. “I saw the outside fastball. I had to go with it.”

Of his ability to hit such an important home run after striking out twice, Johnson said, “It’s easy having teammates who will have your back no matter what, even if you mess up, strike out. They’re going to be like, ‘Get them next time. You always have the next at-bat.'”

Vidal was 0 for 2 with a strikeout in his previous plate appearance before his heroics in the seventh inning.

With one out, he was at a 2-2 count after hitting a hard line-drive foul. Vidal connected squarely in his wheelhouse with the next pitch, powering the ball over the left-field fence.

It was only his second home run of the season.

“That whole at-bat I was thinking about hitting it out; I was trying to hit it as hard as I could,” Vidal said.

He believed he did not hit the ball hard enough for a home run.

“It felt like a pop up to me,” he said.

When he saw the ball clear the fence, he said he thought to himself, “Really? It went out?”

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Gelardi was a believer in Vidal’s ability to hit a game-winning home run before the at-bat took place.

“The funny thing is we had a live scrimmage Wednesday night, and he did the same thing — same pitch, same bat, same everything — same spot,” Gelardi said. “I just had a funny feeling all game that he was going to hit one out. I even told the coaches that he is due because he’s hitting the ball really good.

“He’s only a sophomore so things are really bright for that kid.”


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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