Casa Grande won a one-run baseball game in the late innings by taking advantage of every opportunity.

So what's new?

This time around, the outcome was a bit more meaningful because the victory insured the North Bay League Tournament title, as the Gauchos nudged rival Cardinal Newman, 2-1, in front of a full house at Santa Rosa Junior College on Friday afternoon. Earlier, the Gauchos edged Rancho Cotati, 5-4. Casa has now captured 15 one-run decisions this season.

This victory was a little sweeter for Casa, as Newman handed the league champs their only NBL loss of the season late in the second round. It was the third win in four tries by Casa against the Cardinals.

Starting pitchers Nick Marks of the Gauchos and James Proctor of Newman hooked up in a nail biter before Marks flinched by giving up a run in the top of the fourth. Both pitchers had escaped bases loaded situations with less than two outs in earlier innings.

Gaucho reliever Matt Becker caught a huge break in the critical fourth inning when one of his first pitches skipped past catcher Francis Christy to the screen. As luck would have it, the ball bounced directly back to Christy who caught Newman runner Austin Calos in no-mans land half way home. A quick throw by Christy nailed Calos, and the Cardinals were only able to score once.

The play would turn out to be a game changer, because Casa scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth to go ahead for good.

Proctor finally began to leak a little oil in the fifth, when he walked three batters in between a costly error at short that allowed the Casa rally to continue. Proctor had most of the Gaucho batters completely off balance until he suddenly lost command.

It appeared that the Gauchos had run themselves out of the inning when the potential tying run was thrown out at the plate by the Newman shortstop.

Anthony Bender (.322) then smashed a line drive headed down the line with two runners aboard that was grabbed on a sensational sprawling play by Cardinal third baseman George Foster. The runner from second base beat Foster to the bag, however, and Casa loaded the bases on the single credited to Bender. Walks to Nate Bills and Iggy Llorence forced in two consecutive runs, and the dye was cast for another Gaucho win.

Good teams have a knack of winning tight games like this one, and Casa has done it too many times to be considered fortunate.

Becker settled in to post a strong effort in relief, and breezed through two innings, retiring six consecutive batters.

With the game on the line in the final frame coach Paul Maytorena turned to young closer Eric Parnow who shut the door without allowing a ball to be hit out of the infield.

Parnow was overpowering with a fast ball he threw for strikes together with a sharp-breaking curve ball. After striking out the first two Cardinal hitters, the sophomore lefty threw out final batter Eric Owenson on a softly hit ground ball back to the mound to close it out. Parnow improved his already outstanding ERA to 1.11 by again keeping everything low around the strike zone.

Newman out-hit the Gauchos 7-3, but the Cardinals were turned away in every inning but the fourth.

Former Petaluma Valley Little League player Mitch Wilhemsen reached base four times for Newman, and led both teams with two hits. Wilhemsen beat out a dribbler in the final frame and reached second base before Parnow easily put an end to things.

Bills launched a long drive into the gap with a base runner on the move in the third frame, but a fine running catch in center field ended the threat. Llorence had the other safety for the winning Gauchos.

Casa Grande improved to an imposing 24-2 record in the regular season. The Gauchos, rated as one of the top Division II teams in the state and the NCS No. 1, will host Pinole Valley in the first round of the North Coast Section playoffs on Tuesday.

The Cardinals end the regular season with a record of 14-12 after a third-place finish in the NBL

Newman catcher Richard Clark turned in an outstanding effort by blocking countless balls in the dirt to keep the contest close.