Pima captures first ever Morenci baseball tourney title

Photo By Raymundo Frasquillo: Pima’s baseball team won the 2017 Morenci Lions Club tourney for the first time in 32 meets entered. The Roughriders topped Safford 5-4, Miami 13-6 in five innings, and Thatcher 8-4 for the title. Members of the history-setting team are, kneeling from left Jesus Hernandez, Manny Rivera, Curtis Larson, Elijah Bryce, and Josh Draper. Standing, from left, are assistant coach Michael Contreras, Josh Whitaker, Tyson Hawkins, Travis James, Justin Kartchner, Emilio Molinar, Jarrett Kartchner, Frank Gutierrez, Teddy Rector, Jacob Nelson, Alex Serna, assistant coach Sam Rivera and head coach Greg Cooper.

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.

Photo By Raymundo Frasquillo: Thatcher, a 13-time Morenci Lions Club tourney finalist, ended as runners-up for a 10th time via a loss to neighboring Pima. Members of the Russ Jones-coached Eagles are, from left, Seth Lunt, Justice French, Aric Peterson, Blayde Martin, Gunner Higgins, Jackson Howard, Jake Dunlap, Trevon Clarke, Ryan Chlarson, Javan Montoya, Jonathan Trujillo, Jonah Reyes and Aleck Verdugo.

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.

Photo By Raymundo Frasquillo: Morenci Lion Tom Powers, with wife, Glenda, at his side, received the Melvin Jones Fellow award from the international foundation for dedicated humanitarian services.

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.

Photo By Raymundo Frasquillo: Twelve of the 39th all-tourney team members were on hand following the conclusion of the championship game. Along with Daniel Lopez are family members, from left, Robert Sotelo Memorial Sportsmanship Award recipient Jacob Nelson of Pima, Josh Whitaker of Pima, Misty Lopez (widow), Justin Kartchner of Pima, Daniel Lopez, Memorial MVP recipient Travis James of Pima, Christopher Lopez (son) and Christopher Lopez (grandson), Jarrett Kartchner of Pima, Daniel Nofchissey of Morenci, Aleck Verdugo of Thatcher, Isaiah Aguinaga of Morenci, Jake Dunlap of Thatcher, Jonah Reyes of Thatcher, Jonathan Trujillo of Thatcher, and Javan Montoya of Thatcher. Others on the honor team were Joseph City’s Troy Poudrier, Miami’s Diego Garcia and Gabe Gomez, Morenci’s Derek Waltrip, Safford’s Trevin Broadhead and Keegan McKinney, and Willcox’ Justin Kibler, Trevor Long and Alex Torres.

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.

Photo By Raymundo Frasquillo: Bryan Burkhead and Michael Basteen were the Morenci Club’s Lion of the Year award winners.