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.
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.