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After a miraculous recovery from a near fatal fall, Casa Grande High School's baseball Gauchos walked off with the title in their own Adam Westcott Memorial Tournament last week.

Casa Grande walked in the game-winning run and went on to a 6-1 victory over Sonoma Valley in the tournament championship game Saturday afternoon. The title-taking triumph came just a day after Casa had somehow managed to beat Cardinal Newman, 4-3, after coming within a heartbeat and a bad throw of losing its chance to advance to the championship game.

Championship game

The Gauchos' 5-1 victory margin over Sonoma Valley in the championship game was deceiving. The game was tied 1-1 through four innings before Casa Grande took advantage of five walks to force in two runs in the fifth inning.

Casa Grande starting pitcher Dominic Garihan struggled a bit, allowing base runners in every inning, but got Casa Grande through the first four innings with the 1-1 standoff against Sonoma Valley ace Brennan Cole. Garrihan allowed just two hits, but walked two, hit two and committed a balk. He helped ease his troubles with eight strikeouts in his four innings, including five in a row and six out of seven batters faced in the second and third innings.

Sonoma Valley got to him early in classically hitless form in the first inning, scoring on a walk to Vinnie Albano, his theft of second, a move-over grounder to first by Jayson Strong and Jonah Son's sacrifice fly to center field. Despite runners in scoring position over the next three innings, the Dragons were never able to touch Garrihan for another run.

Casa Grande quickly tied the game, getting a run in the bottom of the opening inning on consecutive hits by Anthony Bender, Nate Bills and Iggy Llorence. It was the start of a big afternoon for Bender, who had two hits and two walks in four plate appearances.

The game continued a recent hot-hitting streak for last season's Sonoma County League Most Valuable Player, who has had only limited pitching appearances despite being one of the team's most effective pitchers last season. "We're pretty deep in pitchers, and they have all been pitching great," he said. Bender is also needed more in the field this season as he switches from first base to shortstop when he isn't pitching. "It was different at first," he said of the transition, "but I am adjusting to it." He hasn't had to make many adjustments at the plate, especially during the tournament where he had two hits in each of the Gauchos' three games.

Casa Grande wasn't able to touch Cole again until the fifth inning, although the Gauchos did manage the unusual feat of getting two hits and still going three up and three down in the third inning. Charlie Parnow opened the inning with a solid single to center, and was almost immediately picked off by Sonoma catcher Miles Hagen. No sooner was Parnbow erased than Bender rapped his second single of the game. He was eliminated on the front end of a double play grounded into by clean-up hitting Bills.

That left the scored tied 1-1 going into the last of the fifth inning when Cole lost both his control and the ball game. He walked Casey Longaker to start the inning. Isaiah Ayala put down a nice sacrifice bunt and Francis Christy walked. Charlie Parnow flied out to center for the second out, but then Cole got into big time trouble. He walked Bender to load the bases and followed with more misses, walking both Bills and llorence to force in two runs before Robbie Woodworth relieved and got out of further difficulty on one pitch, a pitched that was rolled to second base by Richard Lile to stop the merry-go-round.

Just to make sure, Casa Grande battered Woodworth for four hits and three more runs in the sixth inning. Zack Shimek, Anthony Graetti, Christy and Llorence supplied the hits, and the Sonoma pitcher helped out by walking two.

Meanwhile, sophomore left-hander Eric Parnow took over on the mound for Casa Grande, and, although Sonoma slapped him around a bit with four hits over the final three innings, he managed to keep the defending Sonoma County League champions safely away from home plate.

"It all starts with pitching," said Casa Grande coach Paul Maytorena, whose Gauchos won the title in their own tournament for the fifth time. "It was a great tournament. It was nice to play a good Sonoma County League team like Sonoma in the title game."

First game

Casa Grande opened the tournament in impressive fashion, riding the strike-throwing right arm of Matt Becker to an 8-1 win over Maria Carrillo.

Becker and his big-bending curve ball were in charge from first pitch to last. He struck out 10, many on knee-buckling curves, and gave his defenders an extra round of infield practice, inducing seven ground ball outs, four to suer-gloved shortstop Bender. Becker allowed only four hits and walked just on. Through four innings, he allowed just two base runners, both boarded on harmless singles.

His efforts did not go unnoticed. He was selected the tournament's Most Valuable Pitcher.

Maria Carrillo eeked out a run in the fifth inning on an infield single, the only Casa Grande error of the affair and No. 9 hitter Clayton Poole's clutch two-out single.

By then, it mattered little. The Gauchos, playing the part of visitor on their home diamond, already had a five-run lead and were destined to get more in the sixth.

While Becker was shutting down the Pumas, Casa Grande batters were hitting shots all around the diamond. Some were caught, but 11 found their way for base hits.

Christy reached base three times, twice on walks and one on an infield single. Bender slugged a pair of long doubles. Charlie Parnow had a pair of singles, as did Lile, although neither of his hits left the infield.

Bender crushed a long drive to left-center for a double in the first inning, but the most telling blow of a three-run early Gaucho outburst was a softly hit, but very clutch, two-out, two-run single to right field by Charlie Parnow.

Bender struck again with another massive double to key a two-run rally in the fifth. Longaker contributed a double to the mix.

A sad day turned into a full-fledged nightmare for the Pumas when they contributed three errors to a three-run Casa rally in the seventh inning. Bills and Lile had the only Casa hits in the rally.

Miracle rally

Casa Grande was hooked and Cardinal Newman was happily reeling in the win, when the Gauchos somehow managed to escape to play in the championship game.

Cardinal Newman relief pitcher Zak Faber was nursing a 3-1 lead and needing just one out to close out the win with two outs in the seventh inning when Bender sliced a single up the middle. Seemingly unconcerned, Faber got Bills to roll a routine grounder to shortstop. Cardinal Newman infielder Mitchell Wilhelmson made a spotless pick up, but threw low to first base. His receiver, first baseman Jake Popoff couldn't dig the low throw out of the dirt, the hustling Bills was safe and Bender scored.

As tension began to surround the diamond, Charlie Parnow shot a two-strike single into right field to score pinch runner Lile with a tie.

Llorence than soared a fly over the head of Cardinal Newman center fielder Eric Owenson and it was Casa Grande, not Cardinal Newman, advancing to the championship game.

Cardinal Newman never really hit Casa Grande starting pitcher Nick Marks hard, but pecked away for a run in the second on a walk and a pair of singles, and got another in the third on Jeff Rebollo's double, a sacrifice bunt and RBI infield ground out. The Cardinals added a third run in the fifth, and had a chance to break things open until they messed up a suicide squeeze and had a runner tagged out at home after the bunt was missed.

Christy started the Casa Grande first with a long double high off the right-center field fence, was sacrificed to third by Moore and scored on a wild pitch.

In the fifth, Christy walked and eventually scored on the first of two Bender hits.

That still left the Gauchos a run short with two outs in the seventh inning, when an error started things and llorence finished them.

Bender was credited with the pitching win, setting the final six Cardinal Newman batters down in order, three by strikeouts.

All-Tournament Team

Becker was named the Most Valuable Pitcher and Sonoma Valley's Jonah Son the Most Valuable Hitter.

Also named to the all-tournament tem were Bender, Christy, Llorence and Charlie Parnow from Casa Grande; Dan Deely and Devon Graff from Sonoma Valley; Jame Proctor, and Ridge Etchell from Cardinal Newman; Alec Bernard and Andrew Vaughn from Maria Carrillo and Joey Garcia from Healdsburg.

NBL next

Casa Grande is now 9-1 on the season with nine straight wins going into the start of its first North Bay League season this week.

The Gauchos were to play at Maria Carrillo Wednesday and then bring the NBL to Casa Grande Friday with a game against Windsor.