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Palo Verde downs Coronado, clinches state baseball berth — PHOTOS

Updated May 8, 2024 - 11:50 pm

In a tight pitchers’ duel, the bat of Palo Verde’s Luke Herrera lifted the Panthers to the Class 5A state tournament.

The junior second baseman drove in the go-ahead run and scored an insurance run in the fourth inning, and Palo Verde earned a 3-1 home victory over Coronado in a Southern Region winners’ bracket playoff game Wednesday.

The Panthers (24-10), the Mountain League’s No. 2 seed, advance to the state tournament and will host the region title game at 1 p.m. Friday.

“We’ve spent all year trying to build a brotherhood that no one can break, and it shows,” Herrera said. “I mean everyone here is locked in. Staying together as a team and not trying to be individuals getting our name out there is what’s been the difference for us. Because we’re the Panthers, not just a single brand.”

Coronado (21-12), the No. 2 seed from the Desert League, will host an elimination game at 4 p.m Thursday to determine Palo Verde’s region title game opponent and the South’s other state berth.

The Cougars will play the winner of Faith Lutheran and Green Valley, who play at Coronado in another elimination game at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

On Wednesday, Herrera stayed hot after going 2-for-3 with a triple and an RBI in a 6-5 victory Tuesday over Green Valley. With the game tied at 1 in the bottom of the fourth, Herrera knocked in Drew Kaplan with a single, then later scored on a double play.

Tanner Johns went the distance for the Panthers in his first outing since the beginning of February.

“I think Tanner did a really good job of obviously mixing speeds, but his biggest attribute today was getting ahead in the count,” Palo Verde coach Dustin Romero said. “I think Tanner’s attitude kind of made the decision real easy today with him pitching because he just has that bulldog attitude.”

The Oregon commit surrendered only four hits over seven innings of seamless work, striking out three and walking two.

“Going seven innings after not pitching for that long was unbelievably awesome,” Johns said. “Our whole offense has been getting on base anyway they can this season from drawing walks to hitting bombs, and I couldn’t be happier with us.”

Coronado grabbed the lead in the first when senior Jase Pashales hit a sacrifice fly to left deep enough to score senior Evan Festa.

The Panthers answered right back in the bottom of the frame when Kaplan grounded into a double play that scored Texas A&M commit Ethan Clauss, who returned to action after serving a one-game suspension Tuesday from the NIAA after what was deemed an excessive celebration Monday following a walk-off win over Foothill.

Coronado starting pitcher Brigham Bleazard did his best to keep the Cougars in the game. The senior gave up five hits and three runs in six innings with five strikeouts.

Romero said the pitchers will be taxed going into the region title game, but he is focused on state.

“I think our biggest goal right now is just being healthy for next week,” he said.

Contact Jacob Powers at jpowers@reviewjournal.com. Follow@jaypowers__ on X.

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