Safford, Thatcher meet for Morenci Lions Baseball Tourney Championship

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Brandon Napier dives to stretch a double into a triple during the semifinal game with Miami. The Thatcher junior was tagged before touching third base, but the Eagles prevailed 9-6. Thatcher advanced to the championship game for the 14th time. The Eagles face first-time finalist Safford in Francis Waldorf Stadium at 5 p.m.

Semifinalists Miami, Saint David vie for third place

MORENCI – Two Graham County teams, both competing in the state’s 3A Class, can script their own page in school athletic history. South Region Safford (7-8 overall) and South Central Region Thatcher (14-3) will meet for the 42nd Morenci Lions Club Baseball Tourney championship game. The pairing is in Francis Waldorf Stadium on Saturday, April 9 at 5 p.m.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Derek Nabor delivers a pitch during the semifinal game with Saint David. The Safford junior starter did his job as the Bulldogs led 2-0 through four innings.

The third-place game features 2A South Region Miami (18-3) with 1A South Region Saint David (16-2) at 2:45 p.m.

Consolation bracket pairings include 1A South Region Duncan (4-8) with 2A North Region Saint Johns (4-8) at 8 a.m., 2A East Region Morenci (9-7) with 3A South Central Region Florence (11-8) at 10:15 a.m., and 2A East Region Pima (6-6) with the Duncan – Saint Johns winner at 12:30 p.m.

Thatcher qualified for its 14th tourney title game by topping Florence 7-3 in six innings on April 7 and Miami 9-6 in five innings on April 8.

First-time tourney finalists Safford reached the title game with wins over Saint Johns, 14-1 (4 inn) on Day One; and 10-5 over Saint David, 10-5 on Day Two.

The other Day Two results were Florence 11-3 (3 inn) over Duncan, Morenci 11-4 (5 inn) over Saint Johns, and Pima 7-5 (6 inn) over Florence.

In other day one pairings, Saint David defeated Duncan 17-4 in five innings, Pima defeated Miami 11-1 in five innings, and Saint David defeated Morenci 16-6 in five innings.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Gabriel Abril checks the on-field play before having his observation known. He was one of three in the booth announcing the games.

Prior to the start of the meet, Miami was averaging a 15-run margin (18-3, 335-55) per game, Saint David a 7-run margin (10-3, 151-39) per game, Thatcher a 5-run margin (10-5, 149-69) per game, both Morenci (8-6, 111-87) and Pima (8-6, 87-56) a 2-run margin, Safford a 1-run margin (7-6, 85-77) per game, Florence tied (7-7, 118-118), and a 1-run deficit by both Duncan (7-8, 72-77) and Saint Johns (6-7, 62-74).

The teams entered the weekend with rankings of No. 16 (Florence, 5.5357 rating), No. 18 (Thatcher, 4.6150), and No. 26 (Safford, 1.1129) of 40 in 3A; No. 3 (Miami, 10.1683), No. 8 (Morenci, 3.5988), No. 10 (Pima, 2.6609), and No. 27 (Saint Johns, minus 4.7152) of 44 in 2A; and No. 4 (Saint David, 8.8441) and No. 16 (Duncan, minus 4.6024) of 26 in 1A. Tourney games are not factored into the rankings.

2022 Tourney Team Backgrounds

Three teams participated in the initial meet during the 1979 season.

Of the original three teams, only Morenci has been in all of the previous 41 meets. The Wildcats have finished first in 13 of 20 times they qualified for the final (1980, ’81, ’82, ’85, ’89, ’92, ’94, ’97, ’99, 2003, ’07, ’14, ’16) and have been the only team to win three in a row. Morenci is also an 8-time runner-up (1979, ’86, ’95, 2000, ’09, ’10, ’18, ’19).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci Lions Club members form an assembly line to prepare hamburgers for the concession stand.

Thatcher was unable to attend the first tourney but has not missed one since (1980-2019, 2022). The Eagles have been champions thrice (1988, ’96, 2011) and runners-up 10 times (1981, ’82, ’89, ’98, 2003, ’07, ’12, ’13, ’15, ’16).

Pima’s Roughriders are in their 35th meet (1986-2019, 2022) and were the 2017 tourney champions; the Duncan Wildkats in their 32nd (1980, 1983-91, 1995-99, 2009-16, 2018-19); the Saint Johns Redskins in their 20th (1993-94, 2002-05, 2007-19, 2022) and winning the 26th meet title (2004); the Miami Vandals in 15th  meet (1980-87, 2014-19, 2022), ending as runners-up twice (1980, 2016); the Safford Bulldogs in their fifth (1982, 2017-19, 2022) trip to Morenci; and both the Florence Gophers and the Saint David Tigers (2022) in their initial venture to Wildcat Country.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: A concession stand was available for the purchase of food and beverage during the three-day tourney. Student volunteers Dominic Webb, Victoria Alanis, Gianna Chavez, and Aurora Bennett had the late afternoon shift.

Tourney History

Through the previous 41 tourneys, 27 state finalists have prepared for the post-season in Morenci, with 16 finishing as state champions. Long after the grills in the newly christened “Roy’s Cook Shack” went silent and the 2019 tourney ended, three of the 12 tourney participants ended as state finalists. Heber Mogollon and Lake Washington earned state titles, and Morenci finished as state runners-up.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: An A-Team maintenance crew readied the baseball field for the final day of the Lions Club tourney.

Over the past 19 seasons (2003-21), the nine 2022 Morenci Lions Tourney participants have gone a combined 100-96 at Arizona state championship tourneys. Saint Johns (12-16) qualified for 18 tourneys; Morenci (14-12) for 13; Saint David (15-10), Thatcher (12-12), and Miami (9-12) for 12; Duncan (13-9) for 11; Safford (11-9) and Pima (10-9) for 10; and Florence (5-8) for eight.

In that same span, seven of the nine teams were state finalists, with Saint David (2003, ’12, ’21), Duncan (2004, ’05), Saint Johns (2007), and Pima (2016) finishing as champions and Thatcher (2005), Duncan (2006), Saint David (2011), Safford (2017), and Morenci (2019) as runners-up.