Jake Hager hoisted the American Legion Western Regional baseball championship trophy high above his head, then handed it off to his Sierra Vista teammates.
It was a fitting scene for a player who might well be the heartbeat of a team he will soon lead onto a national stage.
Hager was masterful on the mound, firing 7 2/3 scoreless innings, to lead the Lions to a 9-0 rout of nemesis Bishop Gorman in the title game Monday night at Wilson Stadium.
“This is the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” Hager said. “I’ve never won a (high school) state championship, but winning this with our team is the best feeling of my life.
“I can’t even explain it. Now we’re going to go win a World Series. I can’t wait.”
Sierra Vista (45-15) captured its first regional crown since 2005, clinching a spot in the eight-team, double-elimination Legion World Series set to begin Friday at Spokane, Wash.
“It’s special. These guys have worked as hard as any guys can work, and they deserve what they’re getting right here,” Lions coach Levi Gill said.
Right-hander Hager (3-0) went to shortstop in the eighth inning after throwing 128 pitches, 84 for strikes. He gave up only three hits, one walk and struck out 10.
Hager, a senior next year who has committed to Arizona State, was named tournament Most Valuable Player after batting a team-high .519 in six games.
He shut down a Gorman team that entered the title game having scored 41 runs and batted .379 in four regional games.
“He was sweet. He kept the ball down, threw strikes and kept his composure,” Gill said. “You can’t ask for anything more than what he gave us. He was just awesome.”
Gorman (58-14) had taken the last two regional titles and three of the past four, including the 2008 season when the Titans won the World Series.
The Lions finished fourth in the regular-season Gold Division standings and dropped their opener of the Legion state tournament but came all the way back to win state and regional titles.
Sierra Vista won 15-4 in seven innings over Waipahu (Hawaii) in an elimination game earlier Monday to clinch a spot in the finale.
“We have the best momentum right now,” Hager said. “It’s a great team to play with; I’m so glad I’m a part of it.”
Gorman played sloppy defense, committing four errors and allowing five unearned runs.
Billy Santiwan broke the game open in the fifth with a two-run single before coming home on Julian Cutolo’s sacrifice fly to give the Lions an 8-0 lead.
Scott Tomassetti was 2-for-5 and Cutolo drove in three runs for Sierra Vista.
The Titans were unable to duplicate the magic of their first three comeback victories at the tournament, including a rally from a 7-2 deficit in an 11-9 win over Sierra Vista in the winners’ bracket final early Sunday.
Sierra Vista 15, Waipahu 4 — Tomassetti blasted a grand slam to left field in the fifth inning and finished 3-for-5 with five RBIs to help the Lions eliminate Waipahu (15-8).
Sierra Vista strung together five consecutive hits in the first, scoring three runs, and led the rest of the way.
Matt Holman hit a three-run homer in the second and finished 3-for-4 with six RBIs for the Lions.
Sierra Vista pitcher Dusty Stevens went the distance, allowing three earned runs on six hits and four walks with two strikeouts.