Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Teams lined up for the National Anthem prior to the championship game. Safford captured the three-day meet title with a 13-1 win over Hayden on April 22. The 3A Bulldogs are, not in order, Damian Abril, Carlos Arbizo, Isaiah Alvarado, Dylan Broderick, Michael Chavez, Juan Estrada, Caleb Gonzales, Cole Goodman, Darren Maldonado, Derek Nabor, Joseph Ruelas, Zayden Sanchez, Chris Shatto, and Dylan Stahl.
By Raymundo Frasquillo
MORENCI – The lesson learned here a year ago came at a high price for the Robert Abalos-coached Safford Bulldogs, costing a win in the process. One can rest assured the 2023 members of that team did not forget it, reviewed it often, and it didn’t occur since. The Bulldogs were able to top the Winkelman Hayden Lobos 13-1 for the 43rd Morenci Lions baseball tourney title on April 22. It was the only game of 15 during the three-day meet that was not under a time limit.
The run production was largely one-sided and nearly tied the biggest margin in the tourney championship game. Washington’s Lake Washington posted a 15-1 (5 inn.) margin in 2019 over Morenci. The previous was 13 runs by Thatcher over Willcox in 2011, a 16-3 (6 inn.) win. It topped an 11-point, 19-8 (6 inn.) margin in 2001, as well as three 10-point games, 12-2 (5 inn.) by Willcox over Elfrida Valley Union in 2005, 12-2 (5 inn.) in 2016, and 11-1 (5 inn.) by Willcox over Morenci in 2018.
Florence bested Pima 11-3 for third place and Duncan downed Saint Johns 10-4 to finish eighth. The third-place hopefuls, Thatcher and Morenci, succumbed 9-4 to Florence and 10-10 to Pima, respectively, earlier in the day. There were no additional games to determine fifth, sixth, or seventh places between Thatcher, Morenci, and Mogollon. All games were played on the soon-to-be-removed natural grass field in Francis Waldorf Stadium.
The Lobos and Bulldogs are both multi-state meet finalists and multi-state champions. Hayden is 3-6 as a tourney finalist while Safford was in its second Morenci Lions Tourney championship game, falling 10-11 to neighboring Thatcher during the 2022 finale. The Lobos are 9-6 in the state finals and the Bulldogs 4-4.
Top-ranked 1A Hayden (20-3 overall) qualified for the title game by outscoring two opponents 36-14, defeating 3A No. 22 Thatcher 12-5 on April 20 and 2A No. 11 Morenci 24-9 on April 21.
Safford (14-8-1) reached the title game totaling 28-4 runs, downing 3A No. 11 Florence 11-2 and 2A No. 26 Saint Johns 17-2 as 3A No. 21.
All-tourney selections from the meet finalists were juniors; catcher/pitcher Isaiah Alvarado, utility/pitcher Joseph Ruelas, and outfielder/pitcher Chris Shatto from Safford; and seniors, infielders Moraes Cruz and Damian Smith, sophomore infielder Jordan Rodriguez, and freshman Augustine Larona from Hayden.
Alvarado also was tabbed the Robert Sotelo Sportsmanship Award recipient, and Nabor the Daniel B. Lopez Memorial Most Valuable Player Award winner, and both were also 2022 all-tourney members.
Others making the all-tourney team included junior infielder/pitcher Noah Madueno, and sophomores utility Zane O’Rourke and infielder/pitcher Logan Stenson from Florence; and junior infielders/pitchers Riley Alder and Devon Hewitt, and sophomore catcher/pitcher Jeremiah Martinez from Pima.
Additionally, senior infielder/pitcher Daylen Johnson, and juniors, outfielder/catcher/pitcher Austyn Nelson and infielder Emilio Roybal from Morenci; senior infielder/pitcher Brandon Napier from Thatcher; senior infielder/pitcher Brody Waters from Duncan; and senior infielder/pitcher Jay Wahl from Saint Johns were on the honor team as well.
Final Regular Season Pairings
Seven of the nine tourney participants have seeding games left this week (April 24-25), 1A No. 1 Hayden (13-2 seeding, 9-0 East Region for 1st of 7) hosts No. 8 Chandler Lincoln Prep (10-6, 5-4 East Region for 3rd of 7), No. 10 Mogollon (6-6, 4-5 East Region for 4th of 7) hosts No. 7 Joseph City (9-6, 54 East Region for 2nd of 7), and No. 16 Duncan (8-8, 6-6 South Region for 4th of 8) hosts No. 18 Sells Baboquivari (7-10, 5-8 South Region for 6th of 8); 2A No. 9 Pima (9-6, 6-5 East Region for 3rd of 7) hosts No. 11 Morenci (9-7, 5-6 East Region for 5th of 7); and 3A No. 11 Florence (11-5, 3-4 South Central Region for 6th of 9) hosts No. 7 Queek Creek San Tan Foothills (14-3, ) and No. 21 Thatcher (8-9, 3-6 South Region for 6th of 8) hosts No. 15 Buckeye Odyssey Institute (9-9, 5-5 West Region for 3rd of 6) on Monday, April 24.
Duncan hosts No. 5 Tucson Desert Christian (14-3, 10-2 South Region for 2nd of 8) on Tuesday, April 25.
The other two participants, 3A No. 20 Safford (7-8, 4-4 South Region for 5th of 8) and 2A No. 25 Saint Johns (7-9, 5-1 North Region for 2nd of 7) have completed the regular season schedules.
Safford – 13, Hayden – 1
The Bulldogs crossed the plate on their initial at-bat. Sophomore third batter Cole Goodman doubled in senior lead-off batter Derek Nabor with one out. Safford loaded the bases on a pair of walks and fielding error before a ground out halted the threat. Nabor reached first on a fielding error.
Hayden went three up and three down. A pair of groundouts was followed by a senior Moraes Cruz’s single, but he got picked off at first.
Safford went three up and three down in the second, and had two on by being beaned and walked in the third, but a fielder’s choice posted an out. A grounder to the shortstop got the runner going to second and the throw was in time to get the runner headed to first.
The Lobos were walked in the second, freshman Augustine Larona singled on but was picked off after a strikeout, and the fourth batter flew out. A strikeout and flyout in the third were followed by a senior Damian Smith’s single, and walk, but a throwing error allowed Smith to score. A flyout retired the Lobos.
Safford junior Chris Shatto was walked to start the fourth, a ground out plus junior Juan Estrada’s single and Hayden Balk allowed the Bulldogs a second run. A fielder’s choice recorded the second out, and a Nabor double drove in sophomore Carlos Arbizo. The Bulldogs led 3-1 after four, added two more in the fifth, and sent 13 batters up in the seventh to score eight more. The final score was 13-1 favoring Safford.
Hayden was limited to four batters in the fourth, five in the fifth, four in the sixth, and four in the seventh.
2023 Tourney Participants
In 2022, 20-time participant and 3-time state champion Mogollon went 4-0 to end as a state champion; 21-time participant and 9-time state champion Hayden went 2-1 to end as a semifinalist; 43-time participant and 2-time state champion Morenci went 1-1 to end as a quarterfinalist; 42-time participant Thatcher went 1-1 to end as a quarterfinalist; 36-time participant and 1-time state champion Pima fell in the play-in round; 21-time participant and 2-time state champion Saint Johns fell in the play-in round; 2-time participant and 4-time state champion Florence was bumped out by No. 25 and North Region champion Page; 6-time participant and 4-time state champion Safford was bumped out by No. 29 and North Region runner-up Fort Defiance Window Rock; and 33-time participant and 2-time state champion Duncan did not qualify.
The nine teams have a combined 110-102 record in the state tourney during the past 20 years (2003-2022).