Rancho had it’s best scoring chance of the game wiped away when Spanish Springs turned in a miraculous triple play in the fifth inning.
But the Rams managed to shake off that shot to the gut and rebound with two runs in the bottom of the sixth for a 3-2 win over the Cougars in the Class 4A state baseball tournament at the College of Southern Nevada on Thursday.
“A lot of people would have rolled over and died, but these guys have been here before,” Rancho coach Tom Pletsch said. “They’ve got a lot of character, a lot of pride and we’re not going to give up.”
Rancho (32-5) plays five-time defending state champ Bishop Gorman (33-4) at 3 p.m. today at CSN.
Spanish Springs (26-10) takes on Green Valley (32-8) in an elimination game at noon, with the winner of that game playing the loser of the Gorman-Rancho game at 6 p.m.
Trailing 2-1, Rancho’s Zak Qualls led off the bottom of the fifth with a double, and Brandon Pletsch reached on an infield single to put runners at first and second with no outs for cleanup hitter Scott Koenen.
Koenen hit a grounder back up the middle that looked like it was headed to center field, but second baseman Kendall Murphy made a backhanded stop.
Murphy flipped the ball from his glove to shortstop Jake Bray, who spun and fired to first for the second out.
Qualls had rounded third, and was eventually called out for leaving the baseline as he tried to scamper back to the bag.
“We made a couple baserunning blunders,” Tom Pletsch said. “We’re not going to win a championship game like that.”
Rancho starter Eric Holdren remained in control in the top of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double, but retiring the next three in order to give his team a chance.
Bray replaced starter Tanner Oates, but struggled with his control and Rancho capitalized.
Bray walked P.J. Matha to start the inning, and Matha eventually went to third after an errant pickoff throw by Bray.
Pinch hitter Manny Llamas walked with one out, and the tying run scored on a Bray wild pitch.
Gabe Chavira, the team’s No. 8 hitter, then lined a 1-2 pitch to left field to score pinch runner Austin Blake with the go-ahead run.
“Gabe’s been struggling with his bat for part of the year,” Tom Pletsch said. “But I kept telling him all year, ‘you’re going to come up big when it comes down the end.’ He got a couple hits in the regionals that were huge, and none bigger than today.”
Holdren came out and retired the side in order in the seventh to finish the complete game. He allowed one earned run on five hits while striking out 10 and walking one.
“I came out focused and I was ready to go from the very beginning,” Holdren said. “I had a shaky first inning, but you know what, I settled down, came out and felt great. I just went out there and did my job.”
And that’s exactly what Tom Pletsch asked his senior right-hander to do.
“He’s one of our leaders and we asked him to get us to round two,” Tom Pletsch said. “We didn’t play a very good game, but you know what, we’re in round two.”
Holdren gave up a pair of runs in the top of the first, but wouldn’t be touched again.
Bray led off with a single to left, and one out later, Chase Kittilsen chopped a single over third base. Bray went to third, and Kittilsen moved to second on the throw to third.
Murphy then hit another chopper to third that Kevin Kline tried to backhand but misplayed, and both runs scored on the error.
Bishop Gorman 9, Green Valley 7 — Joey Gallo’s two-run homer with one out in the bottom of the sixth broke a 7-7 tie and gave the Gaels the win.
Green Valley had scored three runs in the top of the sixth on a wild pitch and a two-run single by Evan Van Hoosier to take a 7-6 lead.
But Johnny Sewald hit a one-out solo homer to right field to tie the game. After T.J. White walked, Gallo hit his 24th homer of the season to right-center field for the final margin.
Gallo’s blast was Gorman’s fourth homer of the game.
“We’ve done that all year,” Gorman coach Nick Day said. “I think we’re up close to 80 home runs on the season now.”
After Green Valley cut the Gorman lead to 5-4 on a two-run homer by Alec Hutt in the top of the fifth, Erik Van Meetren answered with a solo blast to right center to lead off the bottom of the inning.
Kenny Meimerstorf also had a solo homer leading off the bottom of the second to tie the game, 2-2.
“Green Valley gets a little momentum, and the first hitter of the inning, Erik, gives it back to our side,” Day said. “They get the momentum again in the sixth, and Sewald gives it right back to us. The long balls were huge.”
Gorman starter Cody Roper hadn’t allowed much all season, but the Gators jumped on him right away. Brett Harrison hit a solo home run with two outs, and Hutt added an RBI double after a Gorman error to give the Gaels a 2-0 lead after a half inning.
Roper entered the game with a 0.62 ERA but gave up seven runs, five of them earned, in five innings.
“Green Valley’s such a good offensive club,” Day said. “We’re not used to teams coming out and swinging the bat against Roper like that.”
Roper gave up eight hits, struck out five and walked three.
“I don’t think Roper was on his game tonight,” Day said. “He still battled and pitched great, but the difference was he missed his location on a couple pitches, and Green Valley’s going to make you pay.”
Sewald went 3-for-4 with a triple, a homer, three runs and an RBI while Van Meetren was 3-for-3 with two RBIs. White, Gallo and Meimerstorf each added two hits for the Gaels.
“The key to that game was every time they scored one or two runs, we came back and answered, and it was usually with the home run,” Day said.
Harrison and Hutt each had two hits for Green Valley.