Region leaders square off in Francis Waldorf Stadium on Saturday

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Daylen Johnson is mobbed by teammates after reaching first base safely in the bottom of the seventh. The Morenci senior put the ball in play on a 1-out, 2-strike pitch to score the game deciding run against Tombstone on March 16. Morenci hosts Benson on Saturday, March 18 for a 2 p.m. start.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

MORENCI – The 2A East Region frontrunners meet in Francis Waldorf Stadium on Saturday, March 18. An automatic state tourney berth and region first place may be at stake. Morenci and Benson both bring unscathed region marks to the contest for a 2 p.m. start.

Benson (4-7-1 overall, 3-1 seeding, 3-0 region) has region wins of 7-5 in eight innings over Tombstone (March 3), 12-2 in five innings over Bisbee (March 7), and 11-4 over Pima (March 10), 

Morenci (4-4-1, 4-1, 3-0) has region wins of 19-3 in five innings over Santa Rita (March 6), 15-8 over Willcox (March 13), and 7-6 over Tombstone (March 16).

Benson Bobcats (4-7-1)

The Fred Trujillo-coached Bobcats have won four of 12 games played to date, three of four seeding games and one of eight in two tourneys.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Emilio Roybal sprints home in the seventh inning against Tombstone. The Morenci senior singled on, scored the deciding run, and batted .500 (2-4) for the game.

Benson defeated Tombstone 7-5 in eight innings (March 3), Bisbee 12-2 in five innings (March 7), and Pima 11-4 (March 10). The loss was 6-12 in six innings to Tucson Tanque Verde (Feb. 27).

The Bobcats fell thrice and tied once during the 3-day Tucson Mica Mountain tourney. The losses were 2-10 to Tucson Pueblo (Feb. 23), 5-8 to Snowflake (Feb. 25), and 2-20 to Tucson Flowing Wells (Feb. 25). The tie was 6-6 with Tucson Cholla (Feb. 24).

Benson also went 1-3 during the Tucson Salpointe Catholic Classic. The win was 6-4 over Texas El Paso Leadership East (March 15) while the losses were 0-15 in five innings to host Salpointe (March 13), 6-16 to Cottonwood Mingus Union (March 15), and o-4 to Tucson Empire (March 16).

Morenci Wildcats (4-4-1)

The Christopher Aguallo-coached Wildcats have won four consecutive games since going winless duringtheir first five games.

Morenci defeated Santa Rita 19-3 during five innings in Tucson (March 6), Saint Johns 6-4 (March 11), Willcox 15-8 (March 13), and Tombstone 7-6 (March 16).

The Wildcats opened the season with a 7-8 loss in Miami (Feb. 27), and followed it with three losses and a tie in abbreviated games played during the 3-day Florence-held tourney. The losses were 2-10 to Winkelman Hayden (March 2), 3-4 to Show Low (March 3), and 4-8 to Florence (March 4) while the tie was 1-1 with Globe (March 3).

Morenci – 7, Tombstone – 6

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Austyn Nelson throws some warm-up pitches as a reliever against Tombstone. The Morenci junior was under the watchful eyes of head coach Christopher Aguallo, left. Nelson’s two innings on the mound resulted in a strikeout, two walks, and a lone hit while facing 10 batters.

With one out, a runner on, and a 6-6 deadlock in the bottom of the seventh inning, the final swing of Morenci senior infielder Daylen Johnson would decide the outcome.

Tombstone senior reliever Cesar Canez delivered a 2-strike third pitch, leading to a high-hopper glancing off of leaping junior third baseman Miles McClain’s glove. Gambling Morenci senior Emilio Roybal, with a lead off third base, sprinted home for the deciding run as Johnson reached first base. McClain was unable to pick up the ball in time to make a play. Game over. Morenci’s dugout emptied and the Wildcats sprinted to mob Johnson at first.

The score was tied at 5-5 after five and 6-6 after six. The Yellow Jackets scored once in the first (0-1), twice in the fourth (4-3) and fifth (5-5), and once in the sixth (6-6) while Morenci scored thrice in the first (3-1), and once each in the third (4-1), fourth (5-4), and fifth (6-5).

For the game, Morenci batted.286 (8-28), left three runners on, and committed five errors compared to .222(6-27), nine stranded runners, and two errors.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Area official Luis Bayardo explains a call to Tombstone coach Jaime Milligan late in the game.

Johnson batted .667 (2-3, triple, RBI); Roybal .500 (2-4); Christopher Carbajal (RBI), Patrick Chavez Jr. (triple) and Gabriel Hernandez (3 RBIs) each batted .333 (1-3); Anthony Ballesteros .250 (1-4), and Austyn Nelson 0-3 (RBI).

On the mound, Johnson struck out nine, walked two, beaned four, and yielded five hits while facing 26 batters during five innings. Reliever Nelson struck out one, walked two, beaned one, and allowed one hit while facing 10 batters during two innings.

For Tombstone, sophomore D.J. Elias batted .750 (3-4, triple, RBI), junior Ty Adams .333 (1-3, RBI), and both junior Miles McClain and sophomore Trey Franklin .250 (1-4).

On the mound, Elias struck out seven, walked two, and yielded six hits while facing 26 batters during six innings. Reliever Canez struck out one and allowed three hits while facing four batters during one inning.

Prior to the initial pitch, Tombstone (3-5, 2-2, 1-2) had seeding wins of 4-2 over Saint David (Feb. 28), and 22-0 in four innings over Santa Rita (March 14). The losses were 5-7 in eight innings to Benson (March 3) and 3-7 to Pima (March 7).

The Yellow Jackets also went 1-3 against Tucson schools during the 3-day Tucson Mica Mountain tourney. The win was 12-2 over Rincon (Feb. 24) while the losses were 4-5 to Flowing Wells (Feb. 23), 4-11 to Empire (Feb. 25), and 0-4 to Pueblo (Feb. 25).

Morenci – 15, Willcox – 8

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Junior Owen Allsup (22) is high-fived by his coach while rounding third base. The initial Willcox batter in the top of the fourth dispatched a 2-ball pitch over the 350-foot left field fence for a solo home run. Morenci defeated the visiting Cowboys 15-8 on March 13.

The teams both scored a run during initial plate appearances, but the Wildcats broke the 1-1 deadlock with seven second inning runs (8-1), added one in the third (9-1), and six in the sixth to lead 15-7.

Willcox crossed the plate once in the fourth (2-9), five times in the sixth (7-9), and once in the seventh for the final 7-run margin.

Morenci batted .357 (10-28), left five runners on, and committed five errors compared to .233 (7-30), 11 stranded runners and seven errors by Willcox.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Anthony Ballesteros (6) singled on in the bottom of the seventh, advancing teammate Emilio Roybal into scoring position. The Morenci junior catcher batted .250 (1-4) for the game.

Chavez batted 1.000 (1-1, double RBI); Gabriel Hernandez (2-4, triple, 2 RBIs), Ballesteros (2-4, double, RBI) and Saenz (1-2, RBI) each .500; Roybal .400 (2-5, 2 RBIs); Johnson (double, 2 RBIs) and Lopez .333 (1-3 RBI) apiece; and Nelson 0-4 (RBI).

Mound starter Johnson struck out five, walked three, and allowed a lone hit while facing 14 batters during three innings. Junior reliever Nelson walked one and allowed a lone hit while facing eight batters during 1 2/3 innings. Junior closer Aaron Mason walked six, struck out one, beaned one, and yielded six hits while facing 18 batters during 2 1/3 innings.

For Willcox, junior Alec Fuentes (2-4), senior Landen Dunham (1-2) both batted .500; junior Oren Allsup (home run, RBI) and freshman Rilee Brooks both .333 (1-3); junior Ed Tingle .250 (1-4, RBI); senior Ayden Fuentes .200 (1-5, RBI); and senior Antonio Duran 0-4 (RBI).

Starting pitcher Ayden Fuentes walked four, struck out three, and allowed no hits while facing 15 batters during 3 2/3 innings. Junior reliever Kash Macumber struck out three, walked three, beaned one, and allowed four hits while facing 13 batters during 1 1/3 innings. Senior closer Seth Verdugo walked two and yielded three hits while facing 10 batters during one inning