Thatcher edges Safford for 42nd Morenci Lions tourney title

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Safford freshman Zaden Sanchez puts the ball in play. The result of his swing was a ruled infield fly and automatic out. A base runner was tagged for the third out to end the game. Thatcher prevailed 11-10, winning its fourth Morenci Lions tourney title.

Saint David tops Miami for third place, regular season winds down

By Raymundo Frasquillo

MORENCI – Graham County neighbors, 3A South Region Safford and South Central Region Thatcher met to decide the 42nd Morenci Lions Club Baseball Tourney champion on April 9.

Designated home team Safford, with a final at-bat in the bottom of the seventh inning, could decide the outcome of the game in Francis Waldorf Stadium.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher won its fourth Morenci Lions tourney title, topping Florence 7-3 in six innings, Miami 9-6 in five innings, and Safford 11-10. Members of the team are, not in order, Kody Bingham, Trevor Bingham, Landen Duncan, Paxton Echols, Koye Farris, Trevin Gaylord, Jett Howard, Wyatt Larsen, Hunter Lee, Jasher Moffett, Brandon Napier, Landen Peterson, T.J. Reed, Landen Rios, Tanner Rios, Davis Russell, Tyler Swapp, and Cohen Woodside. The Eagles were coached by Jace Howard, Ty Bingham, Brandon Cooke, Brandon Duncan, Michael Fohr, and Marc Lopeman.

Trailing 9-11, sophomore lead-off batter Joseph Ruelas singled on, junior Derek Nabor reached first on a throwing error, and freshman Cole Goodman singled on to drive in Ruelas with none out. The fourth batter struck out and senior James Maldonado, with four consecutive prior hits, was intentionally walked to load the bases.

Freshman pinch hitter Zaden Sanchez put the ball in play. It was ruled an infield fly and an automatic out, but the dropped fly instinctively prompted the runner on third base to head for home. He decided to return to base as the shortstop picked up the ball and threw it to the catcher, getting tagged in no-man’s land for the third out to end the game with Thatcher victorious, 11-10.

An unusual sudden ending and one all in attendance will remember. It was only the eighth time a lone run decided the meet champion. Five of the previous six title games were abbreviated in five innings.

Safford had a 5-0 lead before Thatcher crossed the plate in the third inning. The Bulldogs added one in both the third and fourth to lead 7-3. Thatcher added four in the fifth to tie and one in the sixth to go ahead, but Safford countered with two to regain the lead. The Eagles tied and retook the lead by adding three in the seventh.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher mound starter Tanner Rios allowed four hits and five walks while facing 24 batters in four innings.

For the game, Thatcher batted .353 (12-34), left 10 runners on, and made eight errors compared to .324 (11-34), 11 stranded runners, and eight errors by Safford.

Thatcher senior Trevin Gaylord batted 1.000 (3-3), junior Brandon Napier .667 (2-3, RBI), senior Landen Peterson .500 (2-4, double), senior Davis Russell .400 (2-5), junior Tanner Rios .333 (1-3), freshman Jett Howard .250 (1-4), and junior Trevin Bingham .200 (1-5, RBI).

On the mound, starter Tanner Rios allowed four hits and walked five while facing 24 batters during four innings. Reliever Landen Rios yielded seven hits, struck out four, and walked two while facing 18 batters during three innings.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: James Maldonado watches the on-field play from the batting circle. The Safford senior infielder/pitcher batted 1.00 (4-4) with a double and two RBIs.

For Safford, Maldonado batted 1.000 (4-4, double, 2 RBIs), sophomore Izaiah Alvarado .667 (2-3, double, RBI), sophomore Michael Chavez .500 (1-2), Goodman .400 (2-5, RBI), and both Ruelas and senior Victor Trujillo .250 (1-4).

Mound starter Trujillo allowed six hits, struck out five, and walked five while facing 30 batters during five innings. Reliever Maldonado yielded five hits and walked two while facing nine batters during 1 2/3 innings. Closer Ruelas struck out one and walked one while facing three batters during 1/3 inning.

Thatcher got its fourth title, having qualified for its 14th tourney championship 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 finalist Safford reached the title game with wins over Saint Johns, 14-1 in four innings on Day One and 10-5 in six innings over Saint David on day two.

In the third-place game, 1A South Region Saint David defeated 2A South Region Miami 10-4 in five innings.

The consolation bracket had 1A South Region Duncan defeating 2A North Region Saint Johns 7-3 in five innings, 3A South Central Region Florence defeating 2A East Region Morenci 11-7 in four innings, and 2A East Region Pima defeating Duncan 15-4 in five innings.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Cole Goodman starts his swing as the ball approaches. The Safford freshman was one of four Bulldogs selected to the 20-member all-tourney team.

The other day two results were Florence 11-3 in three innings over Duncan, Morenci 11-4 in five innings over Saint Johns, and Pima 7-5 in six innings 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: Thatcher players watch the end-of-game fireworks as they hoist the championship trophy.

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).

All-Tourney Team

Four members of both meet finalists were selected to the all-tourney team, following the conclusion of the championship game.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: A 20-member all-tourney team was announced following the conclusion of the championship game. In front, from left are Thatcher senior Davis Russell, Thatcher sophomore Landen Rios, Morenci junior Gabriel Hernandez, Safford junior Derek Nabor, Safford sophomore Izaiah Alvarado, and Duncan freshman Isaac Harris. In the back, from left are Thatcher junior Tanner Rios, Thatcher seniors Landen Peterson and Trevin Gaylord, Saint David freshman Jadon Gill, Safford freshman Cole Goodman, Safford senior Victor Trujillo, and Saint David junior Ryan Gooding. Others selected, but not present were Florence seniors Brenden Bean and Tommy Carberry, Miami senior Weezy Koyaesva and junior Izak Villalobos, Morenci senior Tony Roybal, Pima juniors Jadyn Roberts and Chris Serna, and Saint Johns senior Wes Scarbrough. Gooding received the Robert Sotelo Sportsmanship Award and Russell the Daniel Lopez Most Valuable Player Award.

Thatcher landed senior infielders Trevin Gaylord and Landen Peterson, junior infielder/pitcher Tanner Rios, and sophomore infielder/pitcher Tanner Rios. Safford had senior infielder/pitcher Victor Trujillo, junior outfielder/pitcher Derek Nabor, sophomore catcher/pitcher Izaiah Alvarado, and freshman outfielder/pitcher Cole Goodman.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Davis Russell looks at the pitcher while in the batting circle. The Thatcher senior leadoff hitter batted .400 (2-5) and wound up as the Daniel Lopez Most Valuable Player.

Third place Saint David had junior utility player/pitcher Ryan Gooding and freshman outfielder/pitcher while Miami had senior catcher/pitcher Weezy Koyaesva and junior utility player/catcher Izak Villalobos.

Additionally, Thatcher senior Davis Russell was the recipient of the Daniel Lopez Most Valuable Player Award and Gooding received the Robert Sotelo Sportsmanship Award.

Other members of the honor team included Pima juniors, utility player/pitcher Jadyn Roberts and infielder/pitcher Chris Serna; Florence seniors, outfielder/pitcher Brenden Bean and outfielder/infielder Tommy Carberry; Morenci senior infielder/pitcher Tony Roybal and infielder junior Gabriel Hernandez; Duncan freshman infielder/pitcher Issac Harris; and Saint Johns senior catcher/infielder Wes Scarbrough.

Tourney History

Morenci has been in all 42 meets and Thatcher in 41. Pima was in its 35th meet, Duncan its 32nd, Saint Johns its 20th, Miami its 15th, Safford its fifth, and both Florence and Saint David the first.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Victor Trujillo delivers a pitch out of his wind-up. The Safford mound starter allowed six hits, struck out five, and walked five while facing 30 batters during five innings.

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.

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.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: The Thatcher freshman catcher Jett Howard checks the sign from his coach before relaying it to the pitcher.

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.

The previous one-run title games were won by Winkelman Hayden 5-4 over Morenci in 1979 (1st), by Morenci 2-1 over Thatcher in 1981 (3rd), by Douglas 4-3 during nine innings over Hayden in 1983 (5th), by Morenci 6-5 during 12 innings over Hayden in 1985 (7th), by Willcox 16-15 during nine innings over Morenci in 1986 (8th), by Willcox 14-13 during 12 innings over Morenci in 2010 (32nd), and by Willcox 4-3 over Thatcher in 2013 (35th).

Remaining two weeks

Two weeks remain in the regular season. The 2022 Morenci Lions Tourney teams were ranked No. 11 (Thatcher, 7.9760 rating), No. 21 (Florence, 4.1266), and No. 25 (Safford, 1.1758) of 40 in 3A; No. 2 (Miami, 9.9831), No. 7 (Morenci, 5.8648), No. 10 (Pima, 3.5110), and No. 24 (Saint Johns, minus 4.0187) of 44 in 2A; and No. 4 (Saint David, 8.0176) and No. 16 (Duncan, minus 4.0024) of 26 in 1A as of noon on April 19.

Thatcher Eagles

Thatcher (17-5 overall, 9-3 seeding, 6-0 3A South Central Region for 1st of 6) is averaging a 5-run margin or 10-5 (215-101) score per game.

The Jace Howard-coached Eagles have two more road games this week, Globe on April 19, and Queen Creek San Tan Foothills on April 22, after defeating Queen Creek American Leadership – Ironwood 11-5 (April 18).

Thatcher welcomes Florence on April 25 and is at Florence on April 27.

Last week, the Eagles topped Coolidge 16-4 in six innings (April 12), Willcox 7-4 (April 14), and American Leadership – Ironwood 5-0 (April 15).

Safford Bulldogs

Safford (8-10, 3-7, 2-5 3A South Region for 4th of 6) is averaging a 1-run margin or 7-6 (130-113) score per game.

The Robert Abalos-coached Bulldogs host Douglas Tuesday (April 19) and Tucson Sabino Thursday (April 21) this week. The regular-season finale is at Eagar Round Valley on April 26.

Last week, the Bulldogs fell 0-9 to Sabino (April 11) and slipped past Empire 11-10 (April 14), both region games on the road.

Morenci Wildcats

Morenci (11-8, 8-4, 4-3 2A East Region for 3rd of 6) is averaging a 2-run margin or 9-7 (165-128) score per game.

The Christopher Aguallo-coached Wildcats host Tombstone on Tuesday (April 19), Kearny Ray on Wednesday (April 20), and Benson on Thursday (April 21) this week. The regular-season finale is at Bisbee on April 26.

Last week, the Wildcats downed Willcox 20-10 in six innings (April 12) and Phoenix Madison Highland Prep 10-0 (April 14).

Duncan Wildkats

Duncan (6-11, 4-8, 1-1 1A South Region for 4th of 7) is averaging a 4-run deficit or 6-10 (113-164) score per game.

The Brett Jensen-coached Wildkats travel to Sells Baboquivari on Tuesday (April 19) and to Madison Highland on Wednesday (April 20).

Duncan closes out the regular season at home against Fort Thomas (April 26) and Saint David (April 27).

Last week, the Wildkats defeated Elfrida Valley Union 17-10 (April 12), and fell twice in five innings to Tucson Desert Christian, 7-19 (April 13) and 2-12 (April 14).

Pima Roughriders

Pima (8-7, 7-5, 3-4 2A East Region for 4th of 6) is averaging a 2-run margin or 8-6 (124-95) score per game.

The Nathan Miller-coached Roughriders host Willcox Tuesday (April 19) and Tombstone Friday (April 22) this week. The regular-season finale is with Benson on April 26.

Last week, the Roughriders split with Bisbee, falling 6-8 on the road (April 12) and slipping by 10-9 at home (April 13), both in region play.

Miami Vandals

Miami (20-4, 15-0, 8-0 2A South Region for 1st of 6) is averaging a 14-run margin or 17-3 (415-75) score per game.

The Brandon Powell-coached Vandals host Tucson Saint Augustine Catholic Tuesday (April 19) and Tucson San Miguel Catholic Friday (April 22), and are at Lakeside Blue Ridge Saturday (April 23) for their regular-season finale.

Last week, the Vandals dropped Eloy Santa Cruz 28-4 (April 12) and blanked Saint Augustine 11-0 in five innings (April 13).

Saint David Tigers

Saint David (19-3, 11-2, 3-0 1A South Region for 1st of 7) is averaging a 7-run margin or 10-3 (216-73) score per game.

The Ron Goodman-coached Tigers welcome Valley Union Tuesday (April 19) and Desert Christian Friday (April 22) this week.

Saint David hosts Saint Augustine (April 26) and closes its regular season at Duncan (April 27).

Last week, the Tigers allowed no runs in two games and scored none in another. Fort Thomas was downed 17-0 in four innings (April 12) and Baboquivari 7-0 (April 15). In between, Benson prevailed 0-13 in five innings (April 14).

Florence Gophers

Florence (13-9, 7-6, 3-2 3A South Central Region for 3rd of 6) is averaging a 1-run margin or 8-7 (169-150) score per game.

The J.T. Neal-coached Gophers are at San Tan Foothills Tuesday (April 19) and at Globe Thursday (April 21) plus welcome neighboring Coolidge Saturday (April 22). The regular season closes against Thatcher, there on April 25 and at home on April 27.

Last week, the Gophers were edged 9-10 by American Leadership – Ironwood (April 11) and shutout Globe 10-0 in five innings (April 14).

Saint Johns Redskins

Saint Johns (6-11, 6-8, 3-1 2A North Region for 3rd of 7) is averaging a 1-run deficit or a 6-7 (103-127) score per game.

The Kenneth Blank-coached Redskins are at Pinon Tuesday (April 19) and at Round Valley Friday (April 22), after falling 4-5 at Joseph City (April 18). The regular season concludes with a pair of home games, against Ganado (April 26) and Flagstaff Northland Prep (April 28).

Last week, the Redskins split a home doubleheader with Fort Defiance Window Rock on April 13, winning 6-5 and losing 1-3, and posted a 22-8 5-innings road win over Many Farms (April 15).

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