By Raymundo Frasquillo
SAFFORD – Morenci-Clifton (2-1) meets Mount Graham (2-1) Thursday in a District 11 Little League Tournament elimination game at 6:30 p.m. The winner faces Pinal Mountain (3-0) Friday at 6:30 p.m. Pinal Mountain topped Kearny 25-1 during four innings in game one Saturday, Hayden-Winkelman, 8-2, in game 3 Monday, and Morenci-Clifton 13-1 during four innings yesterday.
Morenci-Clifton will face Mount Graham in a rubbermatch. The teams met in game two of the opening round Saturday, with Morenci-Clifton taking the win, 2-1, on a walk-off homer. The Greenlee County team also downed Duncan, 13-3, during four innings in game four, Monday, and succumbed to Pinal Mountain in game seven, Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Mount Graham dropped to the consolation bracket, ousting Duncan, 9-6, in game six, Tuesday, and Kearny, 13-1, during four innings in game eight, Wednesday.
In the other consolation round contest, Kearny eliminated Hayden-Winkelman, 12-1, during five innings in game five, Tuesday.
Morenci-Clifton vs. Pinal Mountain
The designated visitor, as per a coin toss, Morenci-Clifton stepped to the plate first, going three up and three down, recording three strikeouts with its initial batters.
Pinal Mountain sent 12 batters to the plate and led 7-0 before taking the field for a second time as the home team. With two walked batters on, a one-out 1-1 Gabe Garcia swing resulted in a home run, clearing the 200-foot right field fence and a 3-0 advantage. Two beaned batters, two walked batters, two fielder’s choices and a two-out Jayven Salazar double helped add four more runs.
Shaun Hudman lined a one-out triple down the first base side and a Gabe Hernandez ground out allowed Morenci-Clifton to pare the deficit to six. A ground out and strikeout ended the scoring in the second inning. The Greenlee County team went three up and three down in both the third and fourth. It was the second out of the third inning before all nine batters had stepped to the plate once.
Pinal Mountain drew four consecutive walks and scored five unearned runs before a pair of doubles, by Salazar and Aidan Hayes, drove in three. The Gila County team had an Angel Pena single with four batters in the third.
Morenci-Clifton batted .154 (2-13), fielded .857 (12-14), and made two errors, compared to .333 (5-15), 1.000 (19-19), three stranded runners, and no errors for Pinal Mountain.
Hudman batted 1.000 (1-1) and Tony Roybal .500 (1-2).
Starting pitcher Roybal recorded three walks, beaned two, yielded a hit, and left with a 33-pitch count while facing seven batters during 1/3 inning. Reliever Mateo Palomarez struck out one, walked five, allowed three hits, and left with a 52-pitch count while facing 14 batters during 1 2/3 innings. Closer Derek Saenz gave up a hit and left with an 8-pitch count while facing four batters during one inning.
The rest of the team includes Evaristo Berume, Michael Casillas, Patrick Chavez, Mateo Ciriello, Daylen Johnson, Emilio Roybal, Joseph Seballos and Jayce Ulibarri.
Jason McEuen, Tony Roybal, and Jose “Pepe” Saenz coach the team.
For Pinal Mountain, Salazar (2-2, double, 2 RBIs) and Pena (1-1) both batted 1.000, Garcia .500 (1-2, home run, 3 RBIs), Hayes .333 (1-3, double, 2 RBIs) and Stratton Palmer 0-1 (RBI).
Starting pitcher Salazar struck out five, yielded a hit, and left with a 38-pitch count while facing nine batters during 2 2/3 innings. Reliever Russell Long struck out one, allowed a hit, and left with a 22-pitch count while facing four batters during 1 ½ innings.
The rest of the Gila County team is Matt Aguirre, Aidan Guthrey, Trace Nosie, Jaime Pena and Kaleb Petty.
Pinal Mountain’s coaching staff includes Leonard Aguirre, Chris Guthrey and Dennis Palmer.