Coach Tom Appleyard approached Brayden Williams just before the ninth inning Tuesday night, and asked him if he wanted to finish what he started in the event Durango Post 76 took the lead over the Las Vegas Knights in the American Legion State Tournament at UNLV’s Wilson Stadium.
Williams didn’t think twice: “I said I want the ball. I wanted to put it in my own hands.”
Sure enough, Durango (33-40-1) overcame a 3-2 deficit and took a one-run lead into the bottom of the ninth.
And just as he’d done the entire game, the 6-foot-4 right-hander pitched out of a jam and shut the door on the defending state champs to earn the 4-3 win, while eliminating the Knights (33-10).
“It was one of those moments where you put in your time and work the hardest and having confidence in your team behind you,” said Williams, who improved to 4-4 on the year. “It’s really just believing in your teammates and believing in yourself, just having that faith.”
After falling behind 3-0 early, Durango cut the deficit to one run in the top of the sixth, when Trestan Hall roped a double that scored Seven Giatti, and Ryan Barry followed with an RBI single that brought in Jason Salazar. Barry started the rally in the top of the ninth, with a one-out single. He moved to third base when Duke Pahukoa singled to center field, and Durango loaded the bases on a single by Renae Lara. Barry came home on a wild pitch by Camden Kay, while the other runners advanced one base. Reliever Tyler Curtis intentionally walked Richard Mascarenas to load the bases, then Pahukoa scored when Curtis walked Adam Niederman, giving Durango the lead.
Cesar Sedano, a ninth-inning substitution, led off the bottom half of the inning with a hot shot to third base that Durango’s Steven Giatti couldn’t handle. Sedano moved to second on John Gaughan’s sacrafice bunt, and then to third when Nick Catalano grounded out to shortstop. Williams got ahead of Brandon White in the count before inducing a pop out to Pahukoa to end the game.
“They were on base the whole game, we happened to pitch out of it somehow,” Appleyard said. “Williams was tough today with runners on. Kudos to him, he threw well. My opinion is that’s the best game we’ve played all summer. I hate to see it happened the way it happened, but it’s baseball sometimes. It was a tough game. A tough game on both teams.
“That’s a tough game for either team to lose, because both teams played well enough to win. We did, they didn’t and sometimes the game doesn’t go the way you want it. And part of me does feel for those young players in the other dugout.”
Pahukoa led Durango’s offense, going 3-for-5, while Barry was 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI.
Braxton Wehrle, Christian Lamar and Brandon White each had two hits for the Knights.
The Knights, made up of players from Bishop Gorman, had won two of the last four state championships. But with a younger team, coach Gino DiMaria’s third-seeded Knights were also handed a first-round upset by No. 6 Coronado on Sunday before seeing their season come to an abrupt halt at the hands of seventh-seeded Durango.
“We’re missing a lot of personnel, but I’m not going to use that as an excuse because the kids who committed to being here this summer worked their tails off,” DiMaria said. “This is the foundation of Gorman baseball for the next couple of years, and I’m pleased with the progress they made.
“Durango is young, and we’re young. So we saw exactly what I thought we’d see — a very competitive ball game. Hats off to (Durango coach) Tom (Appleyard), because he is going through the same growing pains, and is also working with the future of Durango baseball. The most important thing we all remind ourselves is teaching the kids. They’ll mature on their own, they just need the right support.”
Durango advances to play Coronado in an elimination game Wednesday at 8 p.m.
LV ACES 7, CORONADO 2
Chris Van Kuren went 4-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI to lead the Aces to a win. After falling behind 2-0, the Aces (33-11) got three runs in the bottom of the third, then added a run in the fifth and three more in the seventh.
Jake McLean went 1-for-4 with one RBI, while Kyle Hall was 1-for-3 with a run scored to lead Coronado (9-15).
Cole Schaefer (7-0) allowed seven hits over eight innings and remained unbeaten in getting the win for the Aces, while Jared Muse (0-2) took the loss for Coronado.
The Aces play Thursday against an opponent to be determined by Wednesday’s games.