Information from the Pecos League contributed to this report.
The Tucson Saguaros’ season comes down to a game of survival Friday with the hopes of extending the best-of-three Pecos League championship series to the limit against the host San Rafael (Calif.) Pacifics.
The Pacifics defeated the Saguaros 5-3 on Thursday night in Game One of the series at Albert Park at San Rafael. The second game is Friday at 7 p.m.
Tucson is trying to win its third championship since 2020, all under manager Sean McNeill.
Kevin Johnson drove in two runs on a double and homer while Alex Valasek pitched 8 1/3 strong innings to lead San Rafael the victory.
San Rafael opened the scoring with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth when Johnson belted a two-run home run off Tucson starter Isaac Keehn, who hit Kyle Guerra with the first pitch of the inning. Johnson then sent Keehn’s second offering over the fence to break a scoreless tie.
The Saguaros evened the score in the top of the sixth when Steve Joyner came in from third on a Madison Santos groundout to second with B.J. Minarcin advancing to third on the play. Minarcin made it a 2-2 score four pitches later when Brock Ephan grounded out.
The Pacifics regained the lead for good in the bottom of the seventh on a two-run single by Mike Thiesen off Tucson reliever Jackson Smith, who replaced Keehn on the mound two batters earlier after Keehn walked Grant Victor on a full count pitch.
San Rafael stretched its lead to 5-2 in the eighth inning when Nick Smith singled home Johnson, who previously hit a double.
Tucson scored a final run in the top of the ninth when Kirkland Trahan’s ground-rule double off reliever Chris Johnson scored Ephan from second. Johnson retired the final two batters as Zach Campbell’s swinging strikeout ended the game.
Valasek, the Pacific Division Pitcher of the Year, got the win after giving up three runs (two earned) on five hits while striking out 10 batters. while Johnson got the save.
Keehn took the loss despite a good outing of 6 1/3 innings in which he allowed four runs (two earned) on four hits with nine strikeouts.
Joyner had two hits for the Saguaros while Ephan and Trahan each had doubles.
Johnson and Nick Smith had two hits each for the Pacifics.