Red Mountain's baseball team has been on a roller coaster all season. Flirting with .500, falling under .500 and now back over .500. A three-game winning streak over the last five days, however, has the Mountain Lions on level ground and perhaps on an upward swing to postseason.
Conner Thurman tossed a four-hitter at 6A East Valley Region leader Skyline on Tuesday afternoon leading Red Mountain to a 6-1 triumph at Skyline High School.
The victory ties Red Mountain with Skyline atop the region at 4-2, but the sweep (3-2 win last Friday) puts the tie-breaker with the Mountain Lions should it end that way. Red Mountain is now 13-11 overall and 7-7 in power-ranking games. Skyline is 16-7-1, 10-4 in power-ranking games. Red Mountain was No. 21 in the power-rankings Tuesday and Pat Herrera's Coyotes a more safe, secure No. 8.
Thurman, a junior right-hander, matched up against Skyline senior ace Boyd Vanderkooi, who entered with a 5-0 record. Vanderkooi had a usual contingent of scouts eyeing him, but it turned out to be a better day for Thurman. Thurman fanned six and walked two. Vanderkooi worked four innings and allowed all six runs, five earned and six hits. He struck out four and walked one.
"Setting the tone and getting us a three-spot in the first inning was big," Red Mountain coach Ross Pagel said. "With Boyd facing Conner we figured it could be a 1-0 or 2-1 game."
Red Mountain collected eight hits, but three were part of the three-run first and three more came in a two-run third off Vanderkooi. Tyller Rice and Austin Duffy had singles in the first. A base-running miscue nearly sabotaged the inning after Duffy's single. Rice scored on a passed ball to make it 1-0 and Vanderkooi's first strike out for the second out threatened to shut down a big inning. But Marcus Christy (3-for-4) launched a long two-run homer to left-center giving Skyline a big number to shoot at.
Thurman allowed three of the four hits in the first two innings as Skyline put two runners on in each inning. A strikeout and back-pick by catcher Michael Jones to first base ended the first.
Skyline had runners on first and second with no outs after a hit batter and single began the second inning. Thurman combined with second baseman Rice and third baseman Riley Pagel to pickoff Jan Rollen from second. A ground out and pop up finished the threat without damage.
"Our defense was solid," Pagel said. "Michael Jones hits in the nine hole, but he is so valuable defensively and handling the game. Marcus Christy picked three or four balls at first and had some hits....
"The sweep is huge. For the most part it (region) is in our hands."
Red Mountain got RBI from Duffy and Sam Berry among its three hits in the third to extend its lead to 5-0. The advantage reached 6-0 in the fourth before Skyline scratched out its lone run on a two-out double by Tyler Jackson. Jackson was thrown out at third (8-6-2-5) trying to advance on a throw to the plate. Jackson had two of Skyline's four hits.