Little League Baseball

Empire outhits Rincon to claim its first district championship in organization’s brief history

Empire is the Disrict 12 8-10 champion headed to the state tournament at Gilbert beginning July 13 (Javier Morales/

Empire and Rincon combined for 26 hits with Empire collecting 16 of them in its 12-9 victory in the District 12 8-10 baseball championship Friday night at Manzanita Park.

Empire, which went 4-0 in the tournament, including two wins over Rincon, advances to the state tournament that begins July 13 at Gilbert.

Rincon’s three-year streak of winning the District 12 title at this age level was snapped. It won the 8-10 state championship last year at its home field, Purple Heart Park.

This is the Empire’s first championship at any age level in the organization’s history, which dates to only 2021 when Santa Rita Little League changed to Empire (which represents the eastern part of Tucson; Rincon is based in Vail).

“Last year, we were runner-up and in the same position — we were up and they (Rincon) needed to come back and beat us two times,” said Montano, who moved from California three years ago and has helped in the development of Empire’s operation. “Coming here, the process was to not lose at all. We want to show everybody that Empire is ready to play and we’re going to keep growing as a league.”

Empire took a 7-1 lead heading into the bottom of the third.

It took advantage of two walks, two fielder’s choice grounders, an error and a single by Leon Verdugo to manufacture three runs in the top of the first.

Empire’s lead became 7-1 following four runs in the third inning. Verdugo again helped spark the rally with a two-run single. Alessandro Valencia and Mason Andrew each added RBI singles.

A five-run bottom of the third by Rincon narrowed the lead to 7-6.

A two-base error and a passed ball helped fuel Rincon’s rally. Zane Brinkley had a run-scoring double, and Ritchie Cantabran hit an RBI single. Brinkley ran home on a double-steal with Cantabran going to second.

After both teams scored a run in the fourth, Empire’s four runs in the fifth gave it a 12-7 lead.

Verdugo again was a catalyst with an RBI single. Andrew also produced two runs with a single. Andrew eventually scored stealing home when Rincon tried to get Ryan Kruse out at second base on a steal attempt.

Rincon again answered with two runs in the bottom of the fifth behind Cody Bryan’s two-run double.

Both teams went scoreless in the sixth inning.

Empire reliever Jaxson Kirkpatrick struck out two of the batters in the sixth inning. He had three strikeouts and one walk in 1 2/3 hitless innings of relief. At the plate, he was 2 for 3 with a run.

Verdugo and Andrew each had three RBIs. Verdugo was 3 for 3 with a run. Andrew was 2 for 3 with a run.

Empire leadoff batter Gabriel Rodriguez went 3 for 3 with two doubles and an RBI. Valencia was 2 for 2 with three runs and RBI.

Rincon was led by Bryan (2 for 3 with a run, double and two RBIs), Cantabrana (2 for 3 with a run, double and RBI) and Zeke Ortiz (2 for 2 with a run, triple and RBI).

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