Northwest Christian coach JC McKee gets doused in victory celebration while talking about his team’s 3A baseball state title, May 13, 2017. (Braden Carmen/azcentral sports)
No. 8 Northwest Christian (22-9) defeated No. 6 Safford (22-8) by a score of 6-2 on Saturday in Surprise to win the 3A Baseball State Championship.
In a game between two unlikely semi-finalists, the game turned out to be an epic finale to the 3A baseball season.
The game was a pitchers’ duel, as each team reached the seventh inning tied 1-1 behind their aces on the mound.
Safford senior pitcher Gabe Ornelas came back out for the seventh inning, issuing a leadoff walk, followed by a sacrifice bunt to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. The next batter hit what looked to be a routine, shallow fly ball into right-center field. But the outfielders collided and caused the ball to fall between them. The go-ahead run came in to score.
Northwest Christian coach JC McKee described the moment as “chaotic,” saying the dugout “erupted like a volcano”.
Ornelas looked dominant throughout the game up until the seventh inning, but Safford coach Robert Abalos does not feel like his pitcher was running out of gas at the end.
“He was still around the zone, his velocity was still there,” said Abalos. “There were a couple close calls behind the plate that could have gone either way. That may have made a difference.”
He added “Gabe did an excellent job, giving us the opportunity to win.”
Shortly after the go-ahead run scored, Ornelas was removed from the mound and replaced by Curtis Bevens. Bevens walked the next batter, loading the bases for Northwest Christian junior Logan Ripple.
Northwest Christian needed insurance runs, and Ripple delivered.
Ripple drilled a shot down the left field line, clearing the bases and opening up a five-run lead.
BASEBALL: State tournament scores, schedules
SOFTBALL: State tournament scores, schedules
The insurance proved to be crucial, as Safford scored an unearned run in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Tyler Worrell was able to close out Safford thanks to the insurance runs from Ripple, leading Northwest Christian to a 6-2 victory and a state championship.
“In a pitchers’ duel like that, it was going to take one timely hit,” said Abalos. “That hit with the bases loaded was the difference in the game.”
“He was due,” said McKee. “That was his at-bat.”
Junior pitcher Maverick Veres earned the victory due to six strong innings of one-run ball. Worrell finished off the final three outs while only surrendering one unearned run.
“We fought to the end,” said Abalos. “I’m proud of them.
“Hats off to Northwest Christian. They’re well coached. They did a good job tonight.”
In a game where one at-bat decided the state championship, McKee said “All the yelling, all the running, all the little things… it pays off at the end. These guys deserve it.”