Jesus Lopez had four hits, Miguel Vega drove in three runs and Alec Acevedo pitched five strong innings Saturday as the No. 1-seeded Nogales Apaches defeated No. 16 Sunnyside 11-2 in the first round of the 5A Conference state baseball tournament.

The offensive explosion – the Apaches pounded out 18 hits in the game – came as the result of a game plan that called for hitting the ball to right field, Nogales head coach O.J. Favela said.

“We had a good approach at the plate. We fouled a bunch of pitches off at the beginning of the game – we probably lost a dozen balls on that right side – but we just had a good approach,” he said. “We had a good week of practice. I think the kids believed in what we were telling them, to hit the ball to the right side, and we hit the ball hard today.”

After a 1-2-3 top of the first inning, capped off by a play in which shortstop Jorge Bojorquez backhanded a hard-hit ball in the hole and made a long throw to first for the out, Nogales put two runs on the board in the bottom half. Bojorquez drove in one on a long double, then came into score on an RBI single by Lopez.

In the bottom of the second, run-scoring singles by Ricky Maytorena and Acevedo increased the Apaches’ lead to 4-0.

Sunnyside mounted a two-out rally in the top of the third, scoring twice on a pair of singles and a two-run double by Angel Cota, but they ran themselves out of the inning following another single when Cota was thrown at easily at home on a delayed steal attempt.

That was all the visitors would get against Acevedo, who struck out the side in the fourth inning and pitched a 1-2-3 fifth on two grounds outs and a fly ball to center. The senior righty finished his five innings of work with three strikeouts, a walk and six hits, keeping the Sunnyside batters off balance with a mix of speeds.

“We have a lot of great pitchers who throw very hard, and I’m just one of those pitchers who throws strikes and I let my defense do their job because I trust them,” Acevedo said.

The Nogales defense was flawless on the day, committing no errors and turning in several outstanding plays, including two by Bojorquez at shortstop.

“We tell our pitchers, ‘Pitch to contact, let them put the ball in play and trust your defense,’” Coach Favela said. “I know they’re great plays, but we kind of expect those plays to be made.”

Meanwhile, as Acevedo kept Sunnyside scoreless in the fourth and fifth, the Nogales bats tacked on seven runs in the two frames. The final two came on a drive to deep left by Vega that was initially ruled a home run, sending Vega into his home run trot and his teammates pouring out of the dugout to congratulate him at home.

However, after further discussions, the umpires ruled that the ball had bounced over the fence and Vega had to go back to second and settle for a two-run, ground-rule double.

With Nogales comfortably ahead, Jose Guerrero came on to pitch a flawless sixth inning and Julian Grijalva nailed it down with a three up, three down seventh, much to the delight of the crowd that packed the grandstand at War Memorial Stadium to cheer on the Apaches in their last home game of the season.

Nogales now advances to play No. 8 Verrado High School of Buckeye at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, just south of Phoenix. The winner of that game plays at 6:30 p.m. on May 2 at Tempe Diablo Stadium; the loser plays a losers’ bracket game at 4 p.m. on May 2 at the same stadium.

The Apaches are seeking their third-consecutive state baseball championship, though the last two came while they were members of the 4A Conference. Now in the larger-school 5A Conference, they’ll need to beat an array of Phoenix-area schools, many of which they haven’t played before, if they want a three-peat.

Acevedo, who was a member of the 2017 and 2018 4A Conference championship teams that beat Salpointe and Catalina Foothills of Tucson, respectively, for the titles, said this year’s team is up for the challenge.

“Honestly, it’s fun. It’s fun to know there are other teams out there that want to beat us and knowing that it’s going to be a clear-minded game, nobody really knows anything about anyone, so really it’s just which team is the better team that’s going to go out there and win,” he said.

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