TEMPE — While the top-rated Catalina Foothills Falcons may not have won the 5A baseball state championship this year, there’s no disappointment from head coach Lance Robertson about his team’s success this season.
Following Tuesday’s 15-8 loss to No. 2 Queen Creek Casteel at Diablo Stadium, Robertson said the team should be proud of how they’ve played all season with its 27-3-1 record.
“It was a great season,” Robertson said. “We did some great things this year. Ran into some bad luck here at the end.”
Catalina Foothills is now 0-6 in state championship games, but that’s in the past and Robertson, in his first year back with the Falcons after coaching them to the title game in 2010, is building for more championship runs and individual success for his players.
“It was a great season,” he said. “They came up one game short. … They have nothing to hold their heads down about. Hold their heads up, just little life lessons here.”
While the loss stings, it was an absolute battle with a lot of action in the game.
Casteel jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first as the Colts looked to establish the tone early.
Catalina Foothills was able to counter easily in the bottom of the second, though, in what would ultimately be a rough inning for the Colts. With the bases loaded, Casteel walked sophomore Dane White to bring the first run across home plate. The Falcons followed it with sophomore Nate Shoemaker coming home on a wild pitch to tie things up at 2.
The rough patch for Casteel would continue, as sophomore Lucas Polec was hit by a pitch to send another Falcon across home plate and keep the bases loaded, making it 3-2 in the bottom of the second.
Troy Sanders, son of Baltimore Orioles first-base coach Anthony Sanders, a Santa Rita great, followed Polec in the lineup. He was able to slap down a single to push home two more runs and extend the lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the second while forcing a pitching change for the Colts.
Casteel was able to cut the lead to 5-4 in the top of the third inning on a two-run RBI single, but it was seemingly the gas that the Falcons needed going into the bottom of the third.
After Kincaid Bergthold was hit by a pitch, sophomore Ganon Dwyer, a Class of 2025 Arizona commit, homered on a line drive to right field, pushing the lead to 7-4.
The biggest turn of events came in the top of the fourth inning, where the Colts completely broke open the game, putting up eight runs to take a 12-7 lead.
It started with an RBI triple from Kyler Anderson, followed up with an RBI double from Kade Thompson, a class of 2024 Arizona commit, to cut the lead to 7-6.
With one out, Crew Price was able to drive another run in on a single to center field, tying the game at 7.
Casteel was just getting started, as Connor Russell was able to drive one home to give Casteel the 8-7 lead before Tyler Russell doubled to drive in an additional two runs and make it 10-12.
Catalina Foothills underwent a pitching change, but it was too little too late to stop the electrified Colts, who drove in an additional two runs before the end of the inning to take the 12-7 lead.
“That was a tough one,” Robertson said. “Base hit, base hit, we knew they could do that to us. It didn’t help us out a couple of little mistakes just kept compounding the inning.”
In the bottom of the fourth, the field was cleared for nearly 45 minutes as a lightning delay brought the game to a halt. For the Falcons, they were hoping it would be a chance to regroup.
“We thought it would be a little advantage for us,” Robertson said. “We thought, ‘Well, maybe their pitcher will have a little time in between,’ things like that. It just didn’t work out for us.”
Coming back out of the delay, Sanders was able to hit a triple while driving home Polec to make it 12-8. The Falcons hoped it would help to generate some momentum, but unfortunately they couldn’t get anything going before closing out the inning.
With opportunities dwindling, the Falcons unfortunately allowed the Colts to drive in three more runs to give them a 15-8 lead in the top of the sixth inning, giving Catalina Foothills just six outs to work with in their attempt to rally.
Casteel, on the other hand, had just six more outs until securing the victory. Locking in, the Colts buckled down and closed out the game to take down the top-ranked team and snag the title.
“I don’t take anything away from that great hitting team right there, (Casteel) earned it,” Robertson said.
The Falcons will be saying goodbye to 13 seniors from this year’s squad. Robertson says it was a great group of individuals with a ton of leadership, and they’ll be leaving behind big shoes to fill.
“Every day they set the example with how hard they practice,” Robertson said. “How much they want it. Everyone is wanting to stay late after a two and a half hour practice.
“Those guys saw that, after a couple weeks they started staying themselves just seeing the hard work you have to put in.”
Robertson knows, though, the future is bright for the Falcons with the upcoming group of players they have in the program. His biggest hope is they can learn from what the seniors on this year’s squad did.
“We’ve got a lot of future coming our way, a good future, but they’ve gotta be big in the biggest moments,” Robertson said. “These seniors had timely hits all year, just making things happen in big-time situations and hopefully they saw that as we came through the losers’ bracket.”
For Robertson, he also got to enjoy a nice family moment, as his father flew out to watch the game.
“I’ve looked up to him for, shoot, forever as a coach” Robertson said. “For him to come out here and spend $1,000 on a flight to get out here. … I really appreciate it.”