The Nogales Junior League All-Stars scored four runs in the top of the ninth inning, then held on in the bottom of the frame to beat Sierra Vista 7-5 and win the Arizona Little League District 8 title on Wednesday at War Memorial Stadium.
It was the second victory for Nogales over Sierra Vista in two days as they won the two-team, double-elimination playoffs and advanced to the 10-team state championship tournament, to be held in Nogales starting July 23. Junior League is for youth ages 12-14 who play on a regulation-sized diamond.
Wednesday’s game started out as a pitcher’s duel between Rafael Echeverria of Nogales and Kai Irlmeier of Sierra Vista, who each threw three scoreless innings out of the gate.
Nogales broke through in the top of the fourth inning (despite playing at home, the Nogalians were the visiting team) when, with one out, Denzel Montijo was hit by a pitch, Echeverria singled and Esteban Vasquez walked to load the bases. With Adrian Leon at the plate, Montijo scored on a wild pitch and Nogales was up 1-0.
Sierra Vista evened the score in the bottom of the inning on a two-out RBI single by Angel Olivares off Vazquez, who had come on to pitch in relief of Echeverria.
In the top of the fifth, Montijo scored Lugo on a two-out bloop single to right to put Nogales back in front, 2-1. The score remained that was until the bottom of the sixth, when it was Sierra Vista’s turn to score on a two-out bloop single to right, this one by Dylan Mitchell.
Neither team scored in the seventh and the game went to extra innings, tied at 2.
Montijo led off the top of the eighth with a long double to right-center, and Echeverria sacrificed him to third. Vasquez flew out to left, and Montijo held at third – until the left fielder’s throw sailed over the Sierra Vista catcher’s head and Montijo dashed home to give Nogales a 3-2 lead.
Things looked bleak for Sierra Vista when Vasquez retired their first two hitters in the bottom of the eighth on a groundout and strikeout. But a single, an error and a single brought home the tying run and the game continued into the ninth inning.
Nogales’ four-run outburst in the top of the ninth began with an RBI single by Omar Perez. An infield pop-up that fell behind the Sierra Vista shortstop led to another run, and that miscue was followed by another run-scoring error and a sacrifice fly by Montijo.
Down 7-3, Sierra Vista kept battling. Two singles and a ground out closed the gap to 7-5, but Vasquez, the eventual winning pitcher, induced the final batter to fly out to center and give Nogales the district title.
In Tuesday’s opening game of the District 8 playoffs, Nogales loaded the bases in the top of the third, then pushed across two runs on an RBI single by Montijo and a sacrifice fly by Echeverria.
Nogales scored again in the top of the fifth when Sebastian Reed led off with a single and came around to score later in the inning. Sierra Vista plated a run in the bottom of the seventh to make the final score 3-1.
Montijo started on the mound for Nogales and earned the Game 1 victory.