It was all smiles for the family and fans in attendance at Aztec Field after No. 3 seed Pima pulled out a 6-4 victory over No. 4 seeded Arizona Western on Saturday afternoon, earning the Aztecs their first region championship in 25 years.
Pima coach Ken Jacome was especially pleased to win the NJCAA Division I, Region I title in his fifth season with the program after going 36-14 in 2021 and 38-18 last season but falling short of advancing with a region title.
“It means a lot. This is a huge step. This is a tough region. Trying to get out of Region 1 is next to impossible, so I’m proud of these guys,” he said.
The Aztecs (45-16) next play in the West district tournament in Nebraska next weekend. If they advance, it’s on to Grand Junction, CO, where the NJCAA Division I World Series is held from May 27 to June 3.
Advancing to the NJCAA Division I World Series will be a challenging task, but Jacome believes his club is up for it.
“We just gotta keep playing,” he said. “You got to keep pitching, keep swinging the bat. The guys are capable of beating anybody, so we just got to go play well.”
In the bottom of the seventh inning, with the game tied at 3-3, an RBI double by sophomore infielder Gage Mestas regained the lead for the Aztecs.
“I just knew how to get on base for my team. I was going to do whatever it took to get on base for my team,” Mestas said. “I knew we had someone in scoring position that was really fast and can move around the bases. So, I just tried doing the best I could to put it in the grass.”
Former Canyon del Oro standout Andrew Stucky, a sophomore outfielder selected the ACCAC Player of the Year, followed Mestas with an RBI double to center field to extend Pima’s lead to 5-3.
After a pitching change for Arizona Western (35-18) that brought Roland Marte to the mound, Pima sophomore catcher Hunter Faildo hit an RBI double down the right field line to extend Pima’s lead to 6-3.
“We just thought all day our guys have been competing at the plate, and we talked about before the game: compete. Some good ABs (at-bats), and we got a guy on, and then some guys swung the bats and drove in some runs, and it was fun to watch,” Jacome said of the team’s offensive performance and resurgence from the plate in the seventh.
Freshman reliever J.T. Drake, who leads the NJCAA Division I in saves with 15, came in to steady the ship in the top of the seventh and closed out the game for the Aztecs.
Arizona Western would load the bases off Drake in the top of the ninth, scoring a run, but he came away with the win.
“There’s nobody better in the country. So as far as our confidence, we knew that when he (Drake) was in the game, we were going to win the game,” Jacome said. “We felt really good about it.”
Pima wasted little time getting on the scoreboard, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first off RBI singles from Faildo and Benji Cazares, and a sac fly RBI from sophomore third baseman Rocco Gump, who is the son of former Arizona second baseman Chris Gump.
The early 3-0 cushion was pivotal in Pima’s victory on Saturday afternoon.
“It was great for us because we’ve played from behind the last few days,” Jacome said. “And for us to have a lead, our guys were excited, because we knew our bullpen was ready to finish, and so we felt good about it.”
The score held until Arizona Western got all three runs back in the top of the fifth, but Pima got out of the inning, stranding two Matadors on base.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writer Kevin Murphy was born and raised in Tucson, and has followed Arizona Wildcats athletics since childhood. Murphy is a journalist product manager with the Green Valley News & the Sahuarita Sun. He has a bachelor’s degree from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU.