Duncan faces Miami in 40th Morenci Lions Club tourney opener Thursday

Photo By Raymundo Frasquillo: The 40th Morenci Lions Club baseball tourney runs from Thursday-Saturday, April 19-21. Duncan and Miami opened the meet at 8:30 a.m.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

MORENCI – The Morenci Lions welcome the 3A Safford Bulldogs; the 2A Miami Vandals, Morenci Wildcats, Pima Roughriders, Saint Johns Redskins, Thatcher Eagles, and Willcox Cowboys; and the 1A Duncan Wildkats, Heber Mogollon Mustangs, and Joseph City Wildcats to Francis Waldorf Stadium this week.

Photo By Raymundo Frasquillo

Beginning as a three-team affair in 1979, the 40th (2018) meet will feature 10 teams and 17 games from Thursday through Saturday, April 19-21, with each having a player-of-the-game selected.

Duncan and Miami open the meet at 8:30 a.m. followed by Pima and Saint Johns at 11:30 a.m. Thatcher meets the Duncan-Miami winner at 1:30 p.m., Willcox meets Mogollon at 4 p.m., Safford meets the Pima-Saint Johns winner at 6:30 p.m., and Morenci meets Joseph City in the nightcap at 8 p.m. The third-place game is slated to begin at 4 p.m. Saturday followed by the championship game at 6:30 p.m. All games are scheduled to be held in Francis Waldorf Stadium.

Safford was ranked seventh of 37 teams with a 12-4 seeding record; Willcox third (12-2) of 47 teams, Morenci seventh (9-5), Saint Johns eighth (12-1), Thatcher 11th (6-6), and Miami 16th (11-6); and Joseph City 10th (8-8) of 23 teams, Mogollon 11th (7-8), and Duncan 22nd (0-13) as of April 18.

The 10 participating teams have gone a combined 89-93 at Arizona State championship tourneys during the past 15 seasons.

In that same span, state tourneys (team records) have included Saint Johns (10-14) in each year; Mogollon (8-11) in 12 years; Duncan (13-8), Thatcher (10-10), Morenci (9-10), Willcox (9-10), and Miami (6-10) in 10 years; Joseph City (5-7) and Pima (10-7) in eight years; and Safford (9-6) in seven years.

Pima was the 2016 Division V state champion and a Division IV semifinalist in 2013; Safford the 3A state champion in 2008 and runner-up in 2017; Mogollon the 1A state champion in 2006; Duncan the 1A state champion in 2004 and 2005 plus the state runner-up in 2006; Thatcher the 2A state runner-up in 2005; Morenci a 2A semifinalist in 2008 and 2006; and Willcox the 2A state runner-up in 2017 and a semifinalist in 2006.

Photo By Raymundo Frasquillo: Pima’s baseball team won the 2017 Morenci Lions Club tourney for the first time in 32 meets entered. The Roughriders topped Safford 5-4, Miami 13-6 in five innings, and Thatcher 8-4 for the title. Members of the history-setting team are, kneeling from left Jesus Hernandez, Manny Rivera, Curtis Larson, Elijah Bryce, and Josh Draper. Standing, from left, are assistant coach Michael Contreras, Josh Whitaker, Tyson Hawkins, Travis James, Justin Kartchner, Emilio Molinar, Jarrett Kartchner, Frank Gutierrez, Teddy Rector, Jacob Nelson, Alex Serna, assistant coach Sam Rivera and head coach Greg Cooper.

Last year, Pima came back to score five runs after trailing 4-3 and hold Thatcher scoreless, resulting in an 8-4 win and the first-ever meet title for the Graham County team.

Pima (3-0) qualified for its initial championship game by scoring three seventh-inning runs against Safford for a 5-4 opening game win Thursday and a 13-6 five-innings semifinal win over Miami Friday.

Thatcher (2-1) reached its 13th final via wins of 7-6 over Willcox Thursday and 8-3 over Morenci Friday.

Photo By Raymundo Frasquillo: Thatcher, a 13-time Morenci Lions Club tourney finalist, ended as runners-up for a 10th time via a loss to neighboring Pima. Members of the Russ Jones-coached Eagles are, from left, Seth Lunt, Justice French, Aric Peterson, Blayde Martin, Gunner Higgins, Jackson Howard, Jake Dunlap, Trevon Clarke, Ryan Chlarson, Javan Montoya, Jonathan Trujillo, Jonah Reyes and Aleck Verdugo.

Willcox (3-1) topped Morenci (2-2) 15-8 in four innings to finish third. The Cowboys eliminated Miami (1-2) 15-8 in six innings Saturday morning and Saint Johns (1-2) 14-0 in five innings Friday morning.

Morenci ousted Safford 7-4 in six innings Saturday afternoon and concluded the first day of the meet with a 9-3 win over Heber Mogollon.

Safford (1-2) shutout Mogollon (1-2) 10-0 in five innings Saturday afternoon, Miami slipped past Saint Johns 10-8 Thursday afternoon, Saint Johns edged Joseph City (0-2) 8-6 in six innings Friday afternoon, and Mogollon downed Joseph City 11-9 in six innings Thursday afternoon. The Joseph City vs. Mogollon rematch did not materialize Saturday morning.

Photo By Raymundo Frasquillo: The Morenci Fire Department sets off fireworks during the three-day tournament.

Of the original three teams, only Morenci has been in all of the previous 39 meets. The Wildcats have finished first in 13 of 19 times they qualified for the final and have been the only team to win three in a row. Morenci is also a six-time runner-up.

Thatcher was unable to attend the first tourney but has not missed one since. The Eagles have been champions thrice and runners-up 11 times.

Willcox is in its 34th tourney and also 19-time finalists, 12-time champions plus seven-time runners-up.

Pima is in its 33rd meet; Duncan in 30th, both Mogollon and Saint Johns in 18th; Miami in 13th, ending as champion in 1980; Joseph City is in itsΒ eighth trip to Morenci; and Safford is in its third venture to Wildcat Country.

The largest field in 2002 had 15 teams ranging in enrollment size from 1A schools Clifton, Pima and Elfrida Valley Union to 5A Laveen Cesar Chavez.

To date, 37 different teams (28 from 2003-2017) have participated at least once.

The three-day tournament is the Morenci Lions Club’s largest fund-raiser of the year. The service group provides a venue to make dreams come true, not only for the participants and spectators, but for those needing aid with vision problems in Greenlee County. A week-long camp for special needs youngsters ages seven and up is also financed by the group. All proceeds from this athletic meet go towards that end.