Jarrod Billig wasn’t scheduled to make an appearance on Saturday after pitching Bishop Gorman’s opening game of the Class 4A Sunset Region baseball tournament.
But when the Gaels ran into a jam in the seventh inning, they called on the senior left-hander.
Billig struck out Zack Simon with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning to secure an 11-8 victory over host Centennial for the region title.
“I had to go to Billig,” Gorman coach Gino DiMaria said. “Nick Hernandez was phenomenal. This kid has been just lights out all year, and he kept the lead, but we had to come with Billig. He finally came in and shut the door, which is huge.”
The win secured the Gaels (30-5) a berth in the Class 4A state tournament, which begins on Thursday at Las Vegas High. Centennial (25-10-1) will play Sunrise Region runner-up Rancho (24-8) at 4 p.m. on Monday at Las Vegas for the final berth at state.
Gorman came into the final day of the tournament undefeated, but Centennial jumped on the Gaels early, getting two homers and five RBIs from Jake Rogers in a 13-2, five-inning victory that forced a deciding game.
The Gaels looked flat in the opener but came out with energy in the second game, especially after Nick Israel led off with a solo homer to right-center field. That kicked off a six-run first inning that gave the Gaels the momentum.
“In the second game we jumped out quick, and then we struggled a little bit and they kept creeping,” DiMaria said. “And that’s what they do.”
Centennial answered with three runs in the bottom of the first, chasing starter Jack Kirvin with two outs. Gorman turned to shortstop Tyler Curtis, who pitched 2 1/3 innings to get the win. Hernandez threw three scoreless innings of relief before running into trouble to start the seventh.
Kian Wilbur led off with a single. An infield single by Gino Sabey and a throwing error moved runners to second and third, and Rogers had a two-run single to make it 11-8.
Billig came on and got a fly ball for the first out, but then hit Tanner Wright with a two-strike curveball. After a pop-up, Billig hit Brett Berger with another two-strike curve to load the bases.
But he put away Simon with a high fastball to end the game.
“They didn’t want to pitch me, because they wanted me to just get a (bullpen) in instead of having to throw in game, but I’m fine with how it played out,” Billig said.
Hernandez went 3-for-5 with a double, and Curtis was 3-for-4 with a run and an RBI for the Gaels, who pounded out 17 hits in the second game.
Israel finished 2-for-2 with a run and two RBIs. Both hits and both RBIs came in the top of the first when Gorman sent 11 men to the plate.
Rogers was 3-for-5 with a run and two RBIs, and Wilbur went 3-for-4 with a double, run and two RBIs for Centennial.
“I don’t like playing Centennial,” DiMaria said. “They’re just tough. They’re tough to beat.”
In the opener, Rogers hit a two-run homer and Brett Berger had an RBI double in a three-run first inning that set the tone for the Bulldogs.
Centennial tacked on three runs in the second, then scored seven in the fourth to blow the game open.
Gorman never solved Centennial pitcher Jaden Dudek, who allowed two runs on five hits while throwing almost exclusively fastballs.
“I don’t even know how to explain today,” DiMaria said. “Today was just one of those days where our pitching was struggling, our hitting at times was struggling and our defense was struggling.
“The first game was just one of those things that we couldn’t do nothing right and they did everything right.”