BASEBALL: Sabino & Nogales bring home championships

May 15, 2018 by Andy Morales, AZPreps365

Nogales (Andy Morales/


It was a big night for Southern Arizona. Cienega brought home the 5A softball championship, Nogales held on for the 4A baseball title and Sabino claimed the 3A baseball trophy. If you are keeping track of the baseball and softball leaderboard, as Southern Arizonans do, five of the 12 possible championship trophies have made it home with a sixth to be decided on Tuesday night.

No. 3 Cienega beat No. 8 Ironwood Ridge 8-2 at ASU’s Farrington Stadium to claim the fourth state championship in school history, all under the guidance of head coach Eric Tatham. Cienega (29-6) won the first championship in program history in 2010 with the second coming in 2015.

A disappointing 2016 campaign by the Bobcats was followed by another state championship in 2017. The victory over the Nighthawks Monday night pushed Tatham past a solid group of coaches on the all-time championship list with only former San Manual coach Sheila Baize (5) and Sahuaro legend Billy Lopez (6) ahead of him from Southern Arizona.

The win also made senior standout Abby Doughty the most decorated athlete in Cienega history with three championships. Doughty is the only remaining freshman from the 2015 championship team.

Ironwood Ridge (27-10) breezed through the playoffs, outscoring opponents 36-3, but the Nighthawks met up with their 5A Southern Region foes in the championship game. The two teams split their regular season games this year.


Sabino (Andy Morales/


No. 1 Sabino beat No. 3 Sahuarita 6-4 in the 3A baseball championship held at Hi Corbett Stadium, home of the University of Arizona baseball team.

Sahuarita (23-8) jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the second inning after Treyjen Meza led off with a single and courtesy runner Bailey Rivera took second on an error. University of Arizona commit Ian Mejia sacrificed Rivera to third base. Preston Clifford picked up a strikeout but a hit-by-pitch was followed by a walk to load the bases for Edwin Martinez and Martinez came through with a bases-clearing double.

Clifford shut the Mustangs down in the third, fourth and fifth and the Sabercat bats started to come alive.

Antonio Fernandez opened up the bottom of the third with a walk and Clifford followed with an infield single. Adam Villasenor was plunked to load the bases and Tyler Wiltshire brought in a run on a double play to cut the Mustang lead down to 3-1. Andres Villasenor followed that up with and RBI single to make it 3-2.

Sabino (29-3) took advantage of a couple of early errors and a late error to plate four unearned runs in the bottom of the fifth to take control of the game, 6-3. The Mustangs scored an unearned run of their own in the top of the sixth to cut the lead down to 6-4 but Clifford (8-0) was almost unhittable down the stretch and he finished with nine strikeouts for the win.

“We got behind early but I had a lot of trust in my teammates behind me,” Clifford said. “We have a lot of heart and I could see it from the beginning of the year. I don’t think anyone worked as hard as us.”

The Sabercats had to work hard with five of the seven teams from the 3A South making the playoffs. Even better, four of the region teams had to play each other in the quarterfinal round but, even with two automatically eliminated, three made it to the semifinals and two matched up in the championship game. Of all the baseball regions, only the 4A Kino Region may have been a tougher gauntlet (more on that later).

Through it all, second year head coach Mark Chandler led the Sabercats to the second championship in school history. His three losses on the year came to upper division opponents with only one (Nogales) counting towards power points. The result was a top-ranking that lasted most of the year and an impressive three point margin in the final seeding.

Chandler moved over to Sabino from Sahuaro after 2016 season.

Chris Barraza and Mejia shared pitching duties for the Mustangs with Barraza collecting six strikeouts in four plus innings of work and Mejia picking up two more to finish the game. Of the six hits given up to Sabino, Clifford collected three, Villasenor had two and Evan Fallwell had the other.

Falwell’s older brother, Tyler Falwell, pitched Palo Verde to a state title in 2014.

Evan Fallwell makes it two for the Falwell family. Brother Tyler pitched Palo Verde to state title also

— Andy Morales (@AndyMorales8) May 15, 2018

For Mejia, the night was bittersweet, knowing his high school career ended on the same field where his college career will start in a few months.

“My future starts tomorrow,” Mejia offered. “I have to do what I need to do to get ready for Arizona, I was just hoping for a better finish. We had a lot of ups and downs but we are brothers for life.”

No. 1 Nogales beat No. 2 Catalina Foothills 3-2 in the second half of the double header held at Hi Corbett Stadium. Nogales (31-5) and Catalina Foothills (25-8) play in that previously mentioned gauntlet known as the 4A Kino Region. No. 4 Canyon del Oro, No. 8 Salpointe and No. 21 Walden Grove are the other members of the region which means all five made the playoffs.

Walden Grove lost in the play-in tournament and the Apaches eliminated Canyon del Oro and Salpointe, otherwise, there may have been four teams from the region in the semifinal round.

The Falcons took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third on an RBI double from Chris Kowalcek but the Apaches answered with three in the bottom half of the inning on an RBI double from Jorge Bojorquez, and RBI from Kevin Jimenez and another from Jesus Lopez.

Kowalcek came through with another RBI double to cut the lead down to 3-2 in the fifth but Markie Lopez (7-1) was too strong down the stretch and he finished with 10 strikeouts for the win.

Cole Altherr threw three inning for the Falcons; Will Saul threw two more and Dante DeNiro finished out the game in what became a pitching duel. Kowalcek had his two doubles and Noah Cullen hit one also. Alec Larson and Matt Cullen closed out the offense for the Falcons with a hit each.

Jimenez went 3-for-3 and Lopez went 2-2 for the Apaches. Bojorquez and Kenneth Jimenez also had hits but that was it. The whole game came down two a few plays and that’s what one would expect from the two best teams in the 4A conference.

The Nogales faithful chanted “back-to-back” and that’s what Nogales head coach OJ Favela wanted to hear.

“I told the guys last year to think about and talk only about winning back-to-back,” Favela explained. “That meant, if we heard it we accomplished it.”

With that, the players started talking about a “three-peat.”

Nogales has one three-peat in the 11 state championships in school history (1954 to 1956) but Desert Christian (2013 to 2015) is the last team in the state to complete the task.

Southern Arizona teams Douglas (1960 to 1962) did it once, St. David did it twice (1965 to 1968 and 1986 to 1991) and Tucson did it three plus times (1939-46, 1950-52 and 1954 to 56).

Mikey Lopez talks back to back, college & three peat for @ApacheBaseball1

— Andy Morales (@AndyMorales8) May 15, 2018

At the other end, the Falcons have come up short five times but nothing can erase the run Jim Baldwin has put together since taking the program over in 2013 and that run includes Grand Canyon commit Dante DeNiro.

“Our team could have gone 0-30 but I would still consider this my favorite team of all the teams I have been on,” DeNiro explained. “It’s been a great experience and we have earned respect in the last four years and I know it will continue with our great underclassmen. This will always be the team for me.”

The Apaches will have to make their run for another title without Lopez, Kevin Jimenez and University of Arizona commit Marcel Bachelier but the team is loaded with 11 juniors. That’s not good news for the rest of the 4A Conference.

Finally, No. 5 Salpointe will face No. 3 Cactus in the 4A state softball final on Tuesday night at Farrington Stadium. It will be the last high school game of the year.

Sahuarita (Andy Morales/