It was a game neither team wanted to lose, and, for 11 innings, a game neither team could win.
Casa Grande and Rancho Cotate high schools hooked up in a memorable baseball game that became a test of endurance Wednesday evening, with Casa's Gauchos finally prevailing, 5-4, in 12 endless innings. Zack Shimek finally ended the struggle with a one-out single in the 12th that plated teammate Iggy Llorence.
The win, coming in the first round of the four-team North Bay League Tournament, moves NBL champion Casa Grande into the tournament championship game Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. against Cardinal Newman at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Last week, Cardinal Newman handed Casa its only league loss of the season, beating the Gauchos on their home diamond, 4-2. It was just the second loss of the entire season for Casa. Cardinal Newman advanced to the tournament championship game by shutting out Maria Carrillo, 3-0.
Wednesday's game was, by any measurement, wild. There were 375 pitches, 37 outs, 25 hits, nine walks, nine runs and seven errors. Twice in extra innings Rancho Cotate scored in the top of the frame only to have Casa Grande match the run in the bottom of the inning to keep the battle brewing.
"I think all the close games we played earlier in the season helped us in the game," noted Casa Grande coach Paul Maytorena. "It was an amazing baseball game." Thirteen of Casa's 23 wins on the season have now come by a single run.
The beginning of the end of the marathon came with one out in the bottom of the 12th inning when Llorence sailed a long fly into left center field for a double, his second hit of the game.
I was just trying to hit the ball, pot put it in play," he said. Llorence hustled to third on a short passed ball, barely bating the tag. Now within seeing distance of the end, he scrambled home on Shimek's two-strike, hard hit to left field, much to the delight — and relief — of his teammates.
The belt was the second crucial hit in extra innings for Shimek, who singled with two outs in the last of the 10th to score Nate Bills with a game-prolonging run after Rancho Cotate had moved ahead, 4-3, with a run in the top of the inning. Back in the far distant past of the sixth inning, Shimek put down a bunt to squeeze home Anthony Bender with the run that tied the regulation game at 2-2.
It took the four of top Casa Grande pitchers to earn the win. Dominic Garihan started and pitched five strong innings. He gave up an unearned run in the fifth inning, allowing just four hits with only one walk and five strikeouts. When he appeared to tire after giving up the run in the fifth, sophomore Eric Parnow took over in the top of the sixth. He struggled a bit, allowing Rancho Cotate a run on one hit in the sixth, while walking three. He got out of the inning by leaving he bases loaded.
Matt Becker took over in the seventh and made an impressive start, striking out the side. When he gave up back-to-back hits in the eighth, Anthony Bender came on, and, after allowing a run to score, managed to get out of the difficulty. Bender stayed to the finish, at times struggling, but earned the win after pitching 4.1 innings, allowing six hits, walking none and striking out two.