By Raymundo Frasquillo
“Put me in, coach I’m ready to play,” is a line from the chorus penned by John Fogerty for his 1985 release “Centerfield.” It has become a staple at baseball games.
The line exudes confidence in one’s ability and preparation. It was exactly what the Pima Roughriders displayed during the three-day Morenci Lions Club’s 39th annual Baseball Tournament ending April 22. All games were played in Francis Waldorf Stadium.
‘We didn’t let errors bother us, we tried to stay positive,’ concurred the three senior Roughriders. That was the difference between the 2017 Roughriders and those participating in the previous 31 meets.
“We did not compound errors,” said Pima head coach Greg Cooper. “We brushed them off.”
Pima had a 3-1 three-innings advantage, committed three errors in the next two innings, which allowed three runs, and trailed by one heading into the bottom of the sixth.
It was then that the white jersey-clad boys wrote their own page in the school’s baseball program history. Pima came back to score five runs and hold the Thatcher Eagles scoreless, resulting in an 8-4 win and the first-ever meet title for the Graham County team.
In the game-changing sixth inning, Jarrett Kartchner singled, Justin Kartchner tripled in the tying run, Travis James singled in run five, a passed ball on a third strike allowed run six and junior Josh Whitaker on first, a two-out throwing error allowed run seven and junior Manny Rivera on first and an errant pickoff attempt at second allowed run eight.
For the game, Pima batted .320 (8-25), fielded .839 (26-31), left eight runners on and committed five errors compared to .207 (6-29), .903 (28-31), nine stranded runners, and three errors for Thatcher.
James batted 1.000 (2-2, RBI), Jarrett Kartchner .750 (3-4), Justin Kartchner (triple, RBI), sophomore Jacob Nelson (2 RBIs), and Whitaker each .333 (1-3), and junior Frank Gutierrez 0-2 (RBI).
On the mound, James struck out eight, walked three and beaned one plus yielded six hits while facing 33 batters during 6 2/3 innings. Freshman reliever Jesus Hernandez threw a lone pitch while facing one batter during 1/3 inning.
For Thatcher, senior Aric Peterson batted .667 (2-3), sophomore Aleck Verdugo .333 (1-3), senior Jake Dunlap, sophomore Javan Montoya, and senior Jonah Reyes (RBI) each .250 (1-4).
Sophomore Seth Lunt and Montoya combined their mounds skills to strike out seven, walk six, bean one, and allow eight hits while facing 34 batters during six innings.
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.
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.
The championship game landed Travis James, Jarrett Kartchner, Justin Kartchner, Jacob Nelson, and Josh Whitaker of Pima along with Jake Dunlap, Javan Montoya, Jonah Reyes, senior Jonathan Trujillo, and Aleck Verdugo of Thatcher on the all-tournament team.
Additionally, Nelson was the recipient of the Robert Sotelo Sportsmanship Award and James the Daniel Lopez Memorial MVP Award.
Others selected to the all-tournament team were seniors Justin Kibler, Trevor Long, and Alex Torres of Willcox; seniors Isaiah Aguinaga and Daniel Nofchissey plus junior Derek Waltrip of Morenci; senior Diego Garcia and junior Gabe Gomez of Miami; senior Tevin Broadhead and freshman Keegan McKinney of Safford; and Troy Poudrier of Joseph City.
Also recognized were Melvin Dona Fellow Tom Powers, Morenci Lions Clubs’ co-Lion of the Year Bryan Burkhead and Michael Basteen, Community Service Awardees Jose Aguilera and school principals Ann Vanzile of Fairbanks Middle School, Jennifer Morales of Metcalfe Elementary School, and Dusty Murphy of the Wildkitten Den, and the Morenci Fire Department.
The baseball tournament is the Morenci Lions Club’s largest fundraiser 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.
To date, 37 (28 from 2003-2017) different teams have participated at least once.
There have been 17 meets with an out-of-state entrant. The Golden State, the Land of Enchantment, and the Sooner State have been represented.
The officials calling the games all volunteer their skills and abilities for the meet.