Bonanza baseball coach Derek Stafford quickly summed up his team’s surprising run in the Sunset Region playoffs.
“Hey man, I’m in shock,” Stafford said after his team’s 5-1 win over Cimarron-Memorial on Wednesday. “And I think some other people are, too.”
It’s unlikely even Stafford would have predicted that Bonanza, which was 15-14 in the regular season, would be the last undefeated team in a stacked Sunset Regional, but that’s exactly where the Bengals are after a 3-0 start in the tournament.
Bonanza now has beaten the Northwest League champion (Shadow Ridge), the Southwest League champion (Cimarron) and the winner of the last seven Class 4A state titles (Bishop Gorman).
“It’s incredible,” senior cleanup hitter Travis Ming said. “I’m completely speechless about that.”
Bonanza (18-14) got a strong outing from No. 3 pitcher Will McKenna, who allowed seven hits in 6 1/3 innings with three strikeouts and two walks. McKenna threw 90 pitches, 59 for strikes as he attacked the Cimarron lineup.
“We told him to share the baseball,” Stafford said. “Cimarron’s real aggressive early in the count, and we said ‘You’ve got to throw strikes, and you’ve got to get us to the fifth.’ His command was great.”
McKenna walked the leadoff man in the seventh, and one out later gave up a single to Gerald Robins before giving way to Daniel Romero, who got the final two outs to earn the save.
“It was great to see,” Stafford said of McKenna’s outing. “He’s a senior, he’s a good kid and he knows I love him. I love all these kids, and I’m just real proud of what they’re doing right now.”
A day after rallying for seven runs in the top of the seventh to beat Gorman, the Bengals jumped on Cimarron in the top of the first. Joaquin Orozco’s sacrifice fly plated the first run, and Ming followed with an RBI single to put Bonanza up 2-0 early.
“It’s huge and gets the tension off and allows us to take a little breather,” Orozco said of grabbing the early lead. “But then we applied the pressure even more, and that was even bigger.”
Senior Robert Higgs added to the lead with a two-out single up the middle in the fifth to bring home two runs and give the Bengals some cushion.
“Robert Higgs, my God, he’s been struggling lately,” Stafford said. “And we talked before the game and said ‘Don’t overthink it, just relax.’ And he got that two-out hit that put us up 4-0, and that was huge, absolutely huge.”
Romero, Orozco, Ming and Alec Taft each had two hits for Bonanza, which will play in the Sunset championship round at 1 p.m. on Friday. Should the Bengals lose that game, a second would be played to determine the title.
“We’ve just believed in each other, believed that the person in front of us or behind us will bet the job done and just trusted each other,” Orozco said.
Robins was 4-for-4 with a double for the Spartans (25-7).
Bishop Gorman (28-6-1) plays Shadow Ridge (30-4) in an elimination game at 1 p.m. Thursday at Sierra Vista, with the winner playing Cimarron at 4 for the right to face Bonanza.
The region champion advances to next week’s state tournament, with the runner-up facing the Sunrise Region runner-up on Saturday for the final berth at state.
Shadow Ridge 2, Arbor View 1 — The Mustangs scored two unearned runs in the third, and Cory Royer fired a four-hitter as the Mustangs edged the Aggies to stay alive.
Royer struck out five, and pitched out of trouble throughout the game, as Arbor View stranded six runners in scoring position.
Shadow Ridge took advantage of a pair of third-inning errors to score two runs. Alec Pittsenbarger reached on an error with one out. He moved all the way to third on an errant pickoff throw. Travis Caskie then hit a grounder to second that was mishandled by second baseman Cameron Mormon.
Caskie came home on a bloop single over the shortstop by Brady Hoskins to give Shadow Ridge a 2-0 lead.
Arbor View’s run came on an RBI double by Evan McMahan in the sixth. But Royer struck out two of the next three batters, and McMahan was stranded at third.
The Aggies had the potential tying run on base in the seventh when pinch-hitter Tyler Garrison walked with one out. But after a fly out to right, Kaid Urban was retired when Garrison was called for interference on a grounder to second to end the game.
Arbor View’s Adam Koutz also threw a four-hitter. He struck out seven with no walks for the Aggies, who finished 30-6.
Bishop Gorman 8, Desert Oasis 1 — Matt Hudgins hit a grand slam in the first inning to power the Gaels over the Diamondbacks.
Desert Oasis took the lead in the top of the first on an RBI single by Chris Van Kuren. But Gorman quickly retook the momentum on Hudgins’ shot to right.
Cadyn Grenier was 3-for-3 with three runs, and Michael Blasko, Cole Krzmarzick and Kenny Meimerstorf each added two hits for Gorman.
Cody Schmidt was 3-for-4 with a run for Desert Oasis, which finished 19-14.