Casa Grande High School's baseball Gauchos, already the North Bay League champions in their first year in the league, continued in the happy zone Friday, recording their 21st straight victory by blanking Rancho Cotate's Cougars, 6-0.
Anthony Bender was a two-way weapon for Casa Grande, allowing just four hits over five innings as a pitcher and breaking the game open with a bases-clearing double as a hitter.
"He didn't have his best staff," noted Casa Grande coach Paul Maytorena of Bender the pitcher, "but he is a battler. He battled today."
Bender allowed Rancho Cotate base runners in every inning, but kept the Cougars away from home plate. He walked two and struck out four — three in a row in the fourth inning.
Although Casa Grande had 10 hits, half of them came in the second inning when the Gauchos pretty much decided things with five runs.
Only one of those runs was earned, with the majority coming after a dropped fly that should have been the third run of the inning. The error set the stage for Bender's bases-clearing heroics.
A force out, back-to-back singles by Charley Parnow and Anthony Garetti loaded the bases before Tyler Moore fought for a full-count walk to force in the game's first run.
Francis Christy followed with a high fly to deep right field. Rancho Cotate outfielder Ryan Walsh went as far as the fence would allow before dropping the rain maker as a run scored. More important than the run was the missed out, an out that would have retired the Gauchos.
Instead, Bender got his chance with the bases still loaded. He made the most of the opportunity, sailing a long drive into right-center field. Rancho Cotate center fielder Adam Nelson sprinted, sprinted and sprinted some more, finally getting a lunging glove on the ball, but not enough to snare the tailing orb that went to the fence as three runs scored.
Casa Grande added one more run in the fourth, with walk-boarded Chrsty scoring when Richard Lile blistered a double down the left-field line.
Meanwhile, Bender fought his way through five innings before turning things over to sophomore left-hander Eric Parnow. Like the starter, Parnow has been sharper, but he still completed the shutout, giving up a pair of hits, while striking out three over the final two innings.
The win over the Cougars came after the Gauchos clinched the North Bay League championship earlier in the week, defeating Santa Rosa's Panthers, 14-0.
Second-place Cardinal Newman lost to Rancho Cotate, 6-4, the same day, clinching the title for Casa Grande.
By Casa standards, the home diamond win over Santa Rosa was a blow out.
While Dominic Garihan and Nick Marks were shutting the Panthers down on four hits, the Gauchos were collecting 15 hits, with 10 different batters contributing.
Garihan started and pitched the first five innings for Casa Grande, allowing just on hit and one walk, while striking out two. By the time Marks took over in the sixth inning, Casa already had its 14-run lead. He preserved the shutout, allowing three hits, but walking none and striking out four.
Leading the big hitting barrage for the Gauchos was sophomore Casey Longaker, who went three-for-three with two doubles. He scored three runs and drove in two.