When Coronado second baseman Tyler Brown escaped the dog pile in front of the pitcher’s mound at Las Vegas High Friday, he only had one thought.
“We don’t lose anymore,” he shouted.
To capture the Division I Sunrise Region tournament championship, the Cougars couldn’t.
Locked in a pair of must-win games, Coronado beat Liberty twice—3-2 in the first game and 6-4 in the second—to earn its second straight region title and a trip to next week’s Division I state tournament.
The Patriots (26-6) will play Bishop Gorman in the play-in game today at 10 a.m. at Las Vegas. The winner will move on to the state tournament.
“I never thought it would be this satisfying. I never pictured it like this,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t call us an underdog, but we put ourselves in a lot of bad situations that we shouldn’t have. We ended up pulling through and coming out on top.”
Liberty stormed back from a three-run deficit with two runs in the fifth and one in the sixth to tie the second game at 4-4, but Coronado never wavered.
With two outs in the bottom half of the sixth, Jackson Cofer singled to right field, stole second base, and then scored on Brown’s sharp grounder that went through the legs of Liberty’s third baseman. On the throw home, Brown reached second.
“We still had to put people on base, that was the biggest thing,” Cougars coach David Padilla said. “Cofer got on for us, stole second, got himself in scoring postion to give us the opportunity with Tyler Brown to hit that ball. Unfortunatley for (Liberty), they didn’t get it.”
Michael Maiello extended Coronado’s lead to 6-4 two pitches later with an RBI single to right and the Patriots never recovered.
Liberty got the tying run on base on a hit by pitch to start the top of the seventh, but Coronado reliever Chandler Blanchard retired the side without trouble.
“Losing that first (game of the tournament) to Rancho put ourselves in a hole,” Padilla said. “But we knew we had a team that could come back. All I told the kids today was ‘Our bats and our defense were going to win it for us.’”
And after Liberty jumped to an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first, the Coronado bats responded.
In the bottom half of the inning the Cougars, benefiting from three batters who were hit by a pitch, a pair of RBI singles, and Maiello’s towering two-run homer over the right field fence, built a 4-1 lead.
“It was huge, because then we had the momentum on our side,” Padilla said. “We kept it for the three or four innings until they started making the comeback. We brought Blanchard in knowing that if we could keep them tied, we had the bats coming up and we got the clutch hits.”
Maiello was 2-for-3 with three RBIs and Cofer went 2-for-3 with a stolen base.
Evan Fresquez, who pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings to finish the first game of the day, went 3 2/3 innings, allowing one run on two hits before reaching his innings limit.
“We’re taking the weekend off,” Padilla said with a laugh. “Eight games in a row, we’re going to take the time off and we’ll come back on Monday with our pitchers rested, ready to go for game one on Thursday.”
In the first game Friday, Julian Burrola hit a two-run opposite field homer over the right field fence in the first inning and Blanchard smacked a lead off solo home run in the fourth to help the Cougars stay alive.
Liberty trimmed the deficit to 3-2 in the bottom of the fifth on a two-run single up the middle by Giovanni Battistoni. But after Griffin Kelly reached base on a four-pitch walk to start the bottom of the seventh, Fresquez induced a fielder’s choice, then a double play to end the game.
Blanchard was 2-for-3, Brown was 2-for-4 with two stolen bases for Coronado.
Liberty’s Chris Bradford struck out 12 batters and walked just one in the loss.