A boisterous mob of white jerseys surrounded home plate on Saturday evening as one of their own rounded third base and sprinted toward the awaiting herd.
Ironwood Ridge coach Dennis Toia's feet left the ground a couple yards from the bag, sliding in headfirst to the rambunctious approval of two dozen teenagers.
"Kids today need different kinds of motivation than we used to," said a dirt-covered Toia. "If that motivated them, I'll do it. They work hard; they deserve it."
Toia's slide, his first since his playing days in the early 90s, was the Nighthawks' prize for winning the Chris Moon Memorial Classic at Cherry Field. Ironwood Ridge defeated tourney host Tucson 12-6 in Saturday's championship game.
Leaving with the bigger of the two trophies put a cap on a masterful 5-0 performance in the tournament, in which Ironwood Ridge beat top-notch opponents from California and Colorado.
In fact, "the competition that we had here is probably better than any of the games that we had earlier in the season," said Nighthawks designated hitter Treyton Stender.
"This tournament, I feel, is going to be a turning point in our season."
Ironwood Ridge battled back from an early 4-0 deficit against the Badgers, scoring one in the third and three more in the fourth to tie the game at 4.
The fifth inning, though, is when Ridge put the game away. Badgers starter Martin Dicochea, a sophomore, issued a walk and allowed an RBI double to start the frame and was subsequently removed in favor of senior Aaron Caballero.
Caballero, however, was unable to draw in the reins on Ironwood Ridge's batters. He allowed three runs on three hits, including an RBI double by Stender which increased the Nighthawks' lead to 8-4.
Leadoff hitter Travis Chavez drove home another run later in the inning on a single to center field against Tucson's second reliever, Tobin Pico.
"Once everything got going, it was a great feeling," said Stender, who finished 2 for 2 with two RBIs and a walk. "We knew we were going to get it together. We've been hot all tournament so we pretty much knew it was going to happen."
Ironwood Ridge pitcher Austin Collins, whom Toia refers to as his "troubleshooter," entered the game in relief of starter Jake Dunn in the third inning with a four-run deficit and the bases loaded. Collins forced a groundout to end the frame and pitched a stellar fourth, fifth and sixth, allowing the Nighthawks bats to go to work.
"He's always ready," Toia said of Collins. "He's in the dugout ready to go if I need him.
"He's been doing it all year."
One thing not clear is how many more times this year Toia will be laying out to put some more stains in his white No. 3 uniform.
"The worst part is the pain of sliding and hitting your chest," Toia said. "Forgot how much it hurts!"