When the Nogales High School Apaches beat the Salpointe Catholic Lancers Saturday night 13-4 to take home the 4A Conference baseball state championship, it wasn’t just a victory for the players and their school.
It was also a victory for the multitude of golden-clad community members who packed the stands at Tucson’s Hi Corbett Field, like NHS security officer Frank Carrizoza, who was in the bleachers the last time Nogales won a state title in 1981; Jesus “Chuchi” Ruiz, who watched his grandson Ricky Maytorena help bring home the trophy, just like he did himself while playing for the Apaches in 1952, 1954 and 1955; and NHS senior Jacob Moraila, who never misses an Apaches game.
“Being out here and watching my friends, my peers that I grew up with come to this stage ... it was just a great feeling to have the community be out here and a sense of pride to have these guys show up and prove what we down at the border have,” said Moraila, who always watches the team from a spot in the stands above left field.
Ruiz, who now lives in Tucson, said he enjoyed seeing so many Nogalians show up at the game, while Carrizoza, interviewed as the contest unfolded on the field, was a model of calm and confidence, saying “it’s great to be here” and “so far so good.”
Thomas Fink, the presiding judge in Santa Cruz County, was less serene. In fact, he said, he was so nervous during the game – and so agitated by the umpiring – that he couldn’t sit still and had to keep moving around the stadium.
“I didn’t think it would be a good idea as a judge for me to get thrown out of a baseball game for yelling at the umpires,” he said, adding jokingly that the umps’ calls were so bad, he was trying to think of a way to hold them in contempt.
Reflecting on the win the morning after, Fink called the experience “more exciting and thrilling” than when his hometown team, the Chicago Cubs, broke a 108-year-old “curse” by winning the World Series last year. For while Cubs’ players hail from cities across the country and world, the NHS team and fanbase are “hometown kids and parents and families,” he said.
“For the community, it was so much more exiting and you could just feel it there last night,” he said.
Speaking after the game, Zachary Bunnell, a NHS social studies teacher and junior varsity baseball coach, said he was impressed with the size of the Apaches’ crowd, noting it was larger than the cheering section for Salpointe, a school based in Tucson.
“It just shows how we rally together,” he said.
Speaking as the Apaches warmed up for Saturday’s game, Leo Federico, also a social studies teacher at NHS, called the teams’ championship appearance a “validation of all their hard work.”
“You have no idea,” he said, “These are some of the brightest kids and the best athletes.”
Once the Apaches cinched the state title, the hype already had NHS sophomore Diego Parra thinking about future victories. “It’s a young team and they’re going to be good for like three more years.” he said.
“I’m really proud of them, they’re all my friends,” Parra said, adding that he was especially happy for the seniors.
One of those seniors is Mika Bracamonte, who was greeted by a throng of fans offering high-fives and hugs as he walked off the field Saturday night.
His mother Jamelle patiently waited to embrace her son, calling the win “bittersweet.”
“It’s his last high school game and he’s a senior, but we came out with a bang,” she said.
In a show of respect for the achievement, the Apaches team bus was met by a full police escort as it returned to the city at around midnight Saturday. The next morning at 11 a.m., the players piled onto a flatbed trailer at the far northern end of Grand Avenue and, escorted once again by a contingent of Nogales Police Department vehicles, were pulled slowly through town, hoisting the championship trophy high in the air as horns honked and bystanders cheered their appreciations.
Bunnell, the social studies teacher, predicted the jubilation would continue until the school year ends on May 26. There will be a “continued celebration” until graduation, he said.