Bonanza’s baseball team was trailing 5-3 going into the bottom of the sixth inning on Friday, but Bengals coach Derek Stafford had a feeling he was going to need ace David Estrada ready to close the seventh.
Stafford’s gut was right.
The Bengals rallied for five runs in the sixth on the way to an 8-5 win over Bishop Gorman in the Sunset Region championship game at Sierra Vista.
“I really, really had a good feeling,” Stafford said. “We did it once on them early in the week, and these kids just don’t quit.”
Bonanza (19-14) earned its first trip to the state tournament since 2002. Gorman (30-7-1), which won the last seven Class 4A state titles, plays Sunrise Region runner-up Liberty (26-6) at 10 a.m. today at Las Vegas High for the final berth at state.
Bonanza had rallied for seven runs in the top of the seventh on Tuesday to knock the Gaels into the losers’ bracket. And just like that rally, Friday’s started with the bottom third of the order.
Robert Higgs, the team’s No. 7 hitter, started things with a one-out single to right. A hit batter and a walk loaded the bases for the top of the order, and Daniel Romero fouled off three two-strike pitches to work a nine-pitch walk to force in a run and make it 5-4.
Brett Doyle then hit a fly ball to left that got over the head of Gorman’s Cole Krzmarzick for an RBI single to tie the game.
Joaquin Orozco hit a sharp grounder off the glove of pitcher Jerrel Latham for an infield hit to give the Bengals the lead, and they worked two more bases-loaded walks to pull away.
“We never say never,” Orozco said. “We just put the ball in play and hope it finds holes and make them make plays and put pressure on them.”
It was Bonanza that struggled with the pressure early in the game. The Bengals committed two errors on potential double-play balls in the first, helping Gorman score four unearned runs to take the early advantage.
“I told the guys, ‘I know you guys are anxious; I couldn’t sleep last night,’” Orozco said. “’So I know where you’re coming from. But you’ve got to settle down. This is just one inning, and there’s seven innings to this baseball game.’”
The Bengals finally cut into the Gorman advantage in the third when Travis Ming hit a two-run double to the gap in right-center, and a third run came home on an error to make it 5-3.
Gorman had chances to extend its lead, but couldn’t plate a run against releiver Adam Merino, who threw four scoreless innings to get the win. Estrada pitched a scoreless seventh to get the save.
Higgs threw a strike from left field to cut down a runner at the plate by 20 feet in the fifth, and the Gaels had another runner thrown out at the plate on a comebacker to Merino in the sixth.
“I can’t say enough about Adam Merino,” Stafford said. “That performance was absolutely incredible. To get from the third inning to the seventh and he hasn’t pitched in a month … it was his day today.”
Orozco said he knew his team wouldn’t fold even when down 5-0 in the second inning.
“We knew we weren’t going to give up, even down those five runs,” Orozco said. “We believed in ourselves, and well, you see the score of the game.
“Never doubt the underdogs. That’s all I can say.”