By Raymundo Frasquillo
SAFFORD – In football its the last-second touchdown; basketball has a three-pointer to win it all, and in baseball children pretend to hit the game-winning, walk-off homer to bring home the championship. For one Little League All-Star, that dream came scenario came true as Morenci-Clifton’s Daylen Johnson stepped up to the plate and had the biggest hit of his life during the District 11 tournament Saturday night at Safford High School’s softball field.
The first batter in the bottom of the sixth inning, Johnson stepped to the plate with a 1-1 deadlock, drilled a 2-1 pitch over the 200-foot left field fence, and the game was declared over as soon as he touched home plate. He left the field with an ear-to-ear smile and the game-winning ball. Morenci-Clifton advanced to the winner’s bracket by edging Mount Graham 2-1 amidst numerous wind delays.
Mount Graham scored the game’s initial run with its’ lead-off batter Derek Nabor singling on, advancing to second and third on separate passed balls, and scoring on a one out third passed ball. A strikeout and fly out halted further scoring. The Graham County team went three up and three down in the second inning and grounded into a bases loaded fielder’s choice with two outs in the third.
Morenci-Clifton tried to score on a two-out double but was thrown out by a relay from centerfield during the first inning and a strike out with two outs retired the side in the second. The Greenlee County team knotted the score in the third with number nine batter Michael Casillas, who reached first after getting beaned, advanced to second on a passed ball, took third on a Joseph Seballos’ double and scored on a one-out wide throw home.
Mount Graham singled with two outs in the fourth and was walked to get runners on second and third, but a strikeout squelched the threat. A three up and three down fifth led to a one-out walk in the sixth, followed by successive strikeouts.
Morenci-Clifton also went three up and three down in the fourth but got a two-out walk followed by a strikeout in the fifth to set the stage for its final plate appearance of regulation play.
The Greenlee County team batted .175 (3-17), fielded .905 (19-21), left four runners on and made two errors compared to .107 (3-28), .952 (20-21), seven stranded runners, and one error for the Graham County team.
Seballos batted 1.000 (1-1, double), Derek Saenz .500 (1-2, double) and Johnson .333 (1-3, home run, RBI) for Morenci-Clifton.
Starting pitcher Tony Roybal struck out seven, walked one, allowed three hits and left with a 63-pitch count while facing 17 batters during 3 2/3 innings. Reliever Daylen Johnson struck out five, walked two, and had a 33-pitch count while facing nine batters during 2 1/3 innings.
The rest of Morenci-Clifton’s roster includes Evaristo Berume, Patrick Chavez, Mateo Ciriello, Gabriel Hernandez, Shawn Hudman, Mateo Palomarez, Emilio Roybal and Jayce Ulibarri.
Jason McEuen, Tony Roybal and Jose “Pepe” Saenz coach the team.
For Mount Graham, Marcus Guillen batted 1.000 (1-1), and both Nabor and Nathaniel Quintero .500 (1-2).
On the mound, starter Joseph Ruelas struck out five, walked two, beaned one, yielded two hits and left with a 51-pitch count while facing 11 batters during 2 1/3 innings. Reliever Wyatt Stahl struck out five, walked one, gave up a hit, and left with a 40-pitch count while facing 10 batters during 2 2/3 innings.
The rest of Mount Graham’s players are Orien Barentine, Erik Carrasco, Markus Carrasco, Landyn Larrabee, Anthony Maldonado, Damian “Monster” Rios, Jainacio Rios, and Christopher Serna.
Mount Graham’s coaching staff includes Josh Nabor, Tommy Quintero, and Andy Rios.
Pinal Mountain topped Kearny 25-1 in four innings during the opening contest and faced Hayden-Winkelman at 5:30 p.m., and Morenci-Clifton verses Duncan followed at 7:30 p.m. Monday night at Safford High School.
Kearny and Mount Graham both droped to the consolation bracket, and will face the losers of Monday night’s game on Tuesday (June 27) to continue the double-elimination meet. The championship game is slated for Friday, June 30 at 6:30 p.m. or, if needed, Saturday, July 1 at 6:30 p.m.