Pinal Mountain Little League Majors earn district banner, state meet berth; Morenci-Clifton homeward bound

Photo By Raymundo Frasquillo: Morenci-Clifton coaches, from left, Jason McEuen, Tony Roybal and Jose “Pepe” Saenz greet Emilio Roybal and the rest of the team during player introductions prior to the start of the game. Morenci-Clifton fell to Pinal Mountain, 12-2.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

Pinal Mountain Little League Majors earned the District 11 banner, going 4-0 with a 15-2 (60-6) average score per game during 18 innings, with a run-ruled 12-2 win over Morenci-Clifton during four innings at Safford High School on June 30. The district champions head to the Mesa-area state meet July 17.

Matt Aguirre, Gabe Garcia, Hayden Guthrey, Andre Hayes, Russell Long, Trace Nosie, Stratton Palmer, Angel Pena, Jaime Pena, Kaleb Petty and Jayven Salazar will represent District 11 at the state tournament.

Chris Guthrey is the team manager or head coach and his assistants are Leonard Aguirre and Dennis Palmer.

Photo By Raymundo Frasquillo: Pinal Mountain earned the District 11 Little League Majors banner. The district champions are front, from left, Kaleb Petty, Matt Aguirre, Jayven Salazar and Aidan Guthrey; middle, from left, Andre Hayes, Trace Nosie, Stratton Palmer, Russell Long, Angel Pena, Jaime Pena and Gabe Garcia; back, from left, assistant coaches Leonard Aguirre and Dennis Palmer and head coach Chris Guthrey. The Gila County boys, averaging a 15-2 score in four games, head to Mesa for the state meet beginning July 17.

Pinal Mountain also topped Kearny 25-1 during four innings in game one, June 24, Hayden-Winkelman 8-2 in game 3, June 26, and Morenci-Clifton 13-1 during four innings in game seven, June 28.

Morenci-Clifton (3-2) advanced to the game 10 championship with wins of 2-1 over Mount Graham in game two, June 24, 13-3 during four innings over Duncan in game four, June 26, and 5-1 over Mount Graham in game nine, June 29.

Mount Graham (2-2) ousted Duncan (0-2) 9-6 in game six, June 27 and Kearny 13-1 during four innings in game eight, June 28, while Kearny (1-2) eliminated Hayden-Winkelman (0-2) 12-1 during five innings in game five, June 27.

Championship (Game 10)

Photo By Raymundo Frasquillo: Pinal Mountain’s Jayven Salazar low-fives assistant coach Leonard Aguirre after rounding third base en route home. Salazar belted out two home runs with a first-pitch swing twice, driving in five runs. Defensively, he struck out eight of 10 batters, yielded a lone walk, and left the mound after 2 2/3 innings with a 37-pitch count.

It was déjà vu; Morenci-Clifton stepped to the plate first as the designated visitor, as per a coin toss, going three up and three down, recording three strikeouts with its initial batters, as in the first pairing with the Gila County boys, June 28.

However, this time, Pinal Mountain sent only nine batters to the plate instead of 12, and scored three walked runners on two separate throwing errors. Four different bases loaded situations ended with three consecutive strikeouts by Greenlee pitcher Derek Saenz.

Morenci-Clifton drew a second-inning walk, but with Salazar taking the mound for the Gila County boys, seven consecutive strikeouts followed.

Pinal Mountain sent eight batters to the plate and led 6-0 before taking the field for a second time as the home team. With a walked runner on, a Salazar first-pitch swing resulted in a 2-run home run, clearing the 200-foot centerfield fence and resulting in a 5-0 advantage. An error set the stage for Garcia’s triple, but he was stranded as a pair of strikeouts, a walk, and an unassisted ground out to the pitcher retired the side.

The Gila County boys drew two walks to start their third inning and Salazar made the score 9-0, clearing the 200-foot left-centerfield fence with another first-pitch swing. A 1-2 count swing by Garcia sailed over the left field fence, scoring a walked Hayes and himself for an 11-0 advantage. Angel Pena added the final run, drilling the ball deep to left field, and recording an inside the park home run. Morenci-Clifton reliever Tony Roybal fanned two, loaded the bases with a pair of walks plus a beaned batter, before striking out the side.

Photo By Raymundo Frasquillo: Morenci-Clifton’s Shaun Hudman hydrates himself after getting back in the dugout. The boys had an ice-chest full of bottled water on hand throughout the tourney.

A two-out fielding error scored Morenci-Clifton’s walked Daylen Johnson and prompted another pitching change for Pinal Mountain. Gabe Hernandez doubled in Shaun Hudman and a strikeout ended the game with a 10-run difference.

Morenci-Clifton batted .077 (1-13), fielded .750 (9-12), left two runners on, and made three errors compared to .313 (5-16), .941 (16-17), eight stranded runners, and one error for Pinal Mountain.

Hernandez batted .500 (1-2, double, RBI).

Starting pitcher Saenz struck out five, walked eight, beaned one, yielded two hits, and left with a 77-pitch count while facing 19 batters during two innings. Reliever Roybal struck out three, walked three, beaned one, allowed three hits, and left with a 45-pitch count while facing 10 batters during one inning.

The rest of the team included Evaristo Berume, Michael Casillas, Patrick Chavez, Mateo Ciriello, Mateo Palomarez, Emilio Roybal, Joseph Seballos and Jayce Ulibarri.

Jose “Pepe” Saenz was the team manager or head coach, with assistant coaches Jason McEuen and Tony Roybal.

Pinal Mountain had two .667 (2-3) hitters, Salazar (2 home runs, 5 RBIs) and Garcia (home run, 3 RBIs). Angel Pena was .500 (1-2, home run, RBI).

On the mound, starter Guthrey struck out one, walked two, and left with a 23-pitch count while facing four batters during one inning. Reliever Salazar struck out eight, walked one, and left with a 37-pitch count while facing 10 batters during 2 2/3 innings. Closer Stratton Palmer struck out one, yielded a hit, and left with a 10-pitch count while facing two batters during 1/3 inning.