The situation facing Bishop Gorman reliever Nick Hernandez couldn’t have been much tougher on Thursday.
But he was the right man for the job.
Hernandez struck out Centennial’s No. 3 hitter Kyle Horton with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth, and the Gaels held on for a 7-5 road victory over the Bulldogs to move into the championship game of the Class 4A Sunset Region baseball tournament.
“I excel when it’s bases loaded,” Hernandez said. “That’s when I come in.”
Gorman (29-4) moves into Saturday’s championship game at noon at Centennial. Should they lose that game, a second game would be played to determine the champion.
Centennial (23-9-1) sandwiched two walks around a hit-and-run single by leadoff may Gino Sabey to load the bases with two outs, and Hernandez came on in place of reliever John Gaughan.
He froze Horton with a breaking ball on a 2-and-2 pitch to get the strikeout and preserve the lead.
“He’s been our closer all year,” Gorman coach Gino DiMaria said. “He’s the guy that we’ve got to count on to stop whatever momentum other teams bring to us and just hold that lead that we’ve got.”
The Bulldogs threatened again in the seventh when Tanner Wright reached on a one-out bunt single and went to second on a throwing error. After a flyout, Brett Berger singled through the left side to put runners on the corners. But Hernandez retired Zack Simon on a fly ball to right field to end the game.
Gorman jumped out to a 6-1 lead heading to the bottom of the fifth, but Centennial finally broke through against Gaels starter Parker Aquino.
Aquino had allowed an unearned run on one hit through four innings, but the Bulldogs jumped on him for four runs in the fifth to pull within a run.
Gorman extended its lead to 7-5 in the top of the sixth on an RBI single by Austin Wells.
Hernandez was 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles, and Jordan Sadovia and Wells each went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Tyler Curtis also was 2-for-4 for Gorman.
Sabey was 3-for-3 with two runs to lead Centennial, which must win on Friday to get another crack at Gorman. Desert Oasis (25-10) plays Spring Valley (24-8) at 3 p.m. on Friday, with the winner facing Centennial at 6 p.m. for the right to face the Gaels.
Desert Oasis 6, Palo Verde 5 — At Desert Oasis, Chaison Miklich earned the win and smacked a two-run home run, as the Diamondbacks eliminated the Panthers.
Jason Sharman had two hits, an RBI, and a run for Desert Oasis. Cole Schaefer pitched the final 1⅓ innings to get the save.
J.D. Brooks belted a three-run homer in the top of the fifth inning for Palo Verde (20-10-1), which got two hits from Ryan Merino.
Spring Valley 10, Cimarron-Memorial 5 — At Spring Valley, Bryce Bullock earned the win on the hill and had an RBI double to power the Grizzlies past the Spartans.
Jonathan Bakken was 3-for-4 with two RBIs for Spring Valley, which took control with a five-run sixth inning. Jaxson Otis and Braxton Bruschke each provided two hits and an RBI for the Grizzlies.
Derek Decolati and Trevor Doyle each collected two hits, and teammate Noah Parker supplied a two-run double for Cimarron (18-15).