The Sahuarita Mustangs clinched the Section 6 championship Wednesday night and it couldn’t have been in more dramatic fashion!
Sophomore Juan Ponce blasted a three-run, walk off home run in the bottom of the seventh inning to propel the Mustangs to a 10-7 win over Florence.
The Mustangs had to win to earn the championship. A loss would have dropped them into a four-way tie for the title with Florence, Rio Rico and Walden Grove, with Walden Grove holding the edge in head-to-head tiebreakers.
Simultaneously across town, the Red Wolves secured their first playoff berth in the program’s two-year varsity history with an 18-0 five-inning win over San Tan Foothills.
With the championship on the line, Florence and Sahuarita Mustangs battled to the last pitch.
The Mustangs had gone up 7-2 over the Gophers in the bottom of the fourth, with Austin Bryan driving in two runs with a double to the fence, Jake Teso following with a double of his own and Milo Fragoso driving in two more with a single through a drawn in infield to put the Mustangs up by five.
But the Gophers came right back in the fifth, chasing Bryan with the bases loaded, then hitting a double to clear the bases off of reliever Sati Santa Cruz to tie the game at 7-7.
Santa Cruz settled down after that and didn’t allow a run in the final two innings to set up Ponce’s late-game heroics.
“It was a fantastic finish, and it was led by our younger players,” head coach Sam Gelardi said after the game. “Juan hit a couple to the warning track against Nogales last night, but couldn’t catch a break.”
“He had a couple of pop-ups tonight – and then got the monster hit.”
The shot cleared the left field fence by a few feet – and the celebration was on, as Ponce was mobbed at home plate after the game-winner.
“We held on, waited for our moment and good things happened,” Gelardi said.
Red Wolves in
It wasn’t nearly as dramatic at Walden Grove, as the Wolves pounced on San Tan Foothills early and often in the mercy-rule win.
The Wolves pounded out 14 hits, including a solo shot from Jacob Jaeger in the first and two hits each from Carter Blouin, Chris Kouris, Andrew Kouris, Brenden Urias-Buono and Daniel Alegria.
Four seniors pitchers; Hunter Lynn, Jacob Jaeger, Carlos Martinez and Justin Garcia combined for a two-hit shutout.
The win secured a playoff berth for the Wolves in just their second year of varsity play.
“I’m at a loss for words really,” head coach Chris Laughland said. “I said three years ago that we would be here by this year, but it still blows my mind how the kids are playing right now.”
“Obviously the players are all happy, but we still have games to win to reach our ultimate goal.”
The Wolves finished section play just one game back of champion Sahuarita at 6-2, but beat the Mustangs earlier this season.
“We knew we were in section contention, but had to win our last three games just to make the playoffs,” Laughland said. “Hopefully we’ll get into the tournament and make some noise.”
“The coaching staff is on cloud nine, but really we can’t wait until Saturday to play again.”
The players will join their coach this afternoon for the AIA’s selection show, to find out who and where they will be playing in the first round of the Division III playoffs.
Game times and locations for both schools will be posted this afternoon at www.sahuaritasun.com.
To learn more about Mustang baseball visit: http://www.susd30.us/high/sports/spring-sports/.