NW Christian holds off Walden Grove
May 16, 2015 by Game Previews, AZPreps365
By Brian M. Bergner Jr.
Having lost by a single run in last year’s Division III state championship game, top-seeded Northwest Christian wasn’t about to let another one slip away under the lights Saturday night.
And senior Alex Wood made sure of it.
With runners on second and third with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning tied 2-2, Wood roped a 1-2 fastball from Walden Grove relief pitcher Cesar Garcia into left field, scoring teammate Jake Huey from third base to claim the title, 3-2.
Wood said all he was thinking about as he walked to the plate was “getting the job done.”
“I thought [the defender] had a chance at it, but I saw it get through and I was so happy about it,” said Wood, who finished 2 for 3 with a walk and two RBIs on the night at Surprise Stadium.
Northwest Christian skipper Rod Bair said he’s “never been more proud of a kid” that has worked so hard in the program.
“He didn’t start for us in his first three years. This year, he wasn’t even starting in the beginning of the year,” said Bair, adding that Wood’s ability to come up with the big hits forced his hand in the last few weeks of the season.
“I had to have him in the lineup and he’s been doing it ever since,” Bair said. “Honestly, there was no one else I would rather have up in that situation. He was so on fire and he just gets it done.”
And Wood wasn’t the only senior to get it done for Northwest Christian (29-5) on Saturday night.
Senior southpaw Steven Butts pitched eight innings, allowing two runs on three hits and a pair of walks while striking out six Red Wolves batters.
“He was very efficient. It was unbelievable. This could not have happened to a better kid,” Bair said. “He’s been doing it for us for four years. He was the guy we wanted up in this situation.”
Butts surrendered both of his runs in the top of the first inning but settled in quickly to retire 21 of the next 24 batters he faced, including setting down the side in order in the top half of the seventh and eighth innings.
Those two runs came for Walden Grove (23-7) when center fielder Andrew Kouris walked to lead off the game and scored on an RBI fielder’s choice by Armondo Vasquez.
Daniel Alegria followed that up with an RBI single to score Chris Suarez, who reached base after he was hit by a pitch.
After the first inning, Butts said he just went out there and kept “throwing” because the Crusaders have a “really solid defense” behind him.
“They were going to get it done,” said Butts, who was held out of Saturday morning’s 2-1 victory over Scottsdale Christian in the state semifinals.
That trophy seemed far from Northwest Christian’s grasp down 2-0 after three innings of play, however, as they struggled against Walden Grove sophomore starting pitcher Wright Avant.
But things loosened up in the bottom half of the fourth inning for Northwest Christian when Huey, a junior first baseman, singled to left field and was brought home by Wood’s RBI single to make it a 2-1 game.
Huey would lead the charge again in the sixth inning, doubling to left-center field and scoring on an RBI single by Butts.
Huey was 2 for 4 with a stolen base and three runs scored while Butts was 1 for 3 with a walk and that RBI.
As for Avant, he pitched five innings while allowing two runs on three hits and two walks.
“He started off really strong for us and he located where he needed to be, but he was getting up in the zone there a little bit later in the game,” Walden Grove head coach Rene Valdez said. “I couldn’t be prouder of him. He’s established himself on the mound and he’s only a sophomore.”
Avant said he felt he could have pitched a little “better.”
“If I threw a couple more pitches where they were supposed to be, I feel we could have come out with a W,” Avant said. “But stuff like that happens.”
Avant added that he was proud of his team, a No. 18 seed, for just getting to this point.
“We weren’t supposed to be here being an 18 seed and in the state playoffs,” Avant said. “We were supposed to lose in the first round, but we surprised a lot of people and I’m proud of it. We were excited.”
With two close games Saturday, Bair said his stomach was tied in knots.
“I’ve taken about eight Prilosec’s in the last two days. My stomach is on fire right now,” Bair said. “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s been unbelievable. I tip my cap to Walden Grove, I mean coming from the 18 seed, those teams down in Tucson play good ball.”
As for last year’s state title game loss, Butts said it is a thing of the past.
“This is redemption,” Butts said. “It’s awesome and so crazy.”
Bair said this year’s approach was all about winning the title.
“Second place is the first loser,” Bair said. “Nothing would have mattered other than the trophy.”