GOODYEAR — It was fitting how the Desert Christian baseball team stumbled out of the gate in Saturday’s Division IV state championship game.
The top-ranked Eagles made an error on the first play of the game at Goodyear Ballpark. Two batters later, they gave up an RBI single. Then pitcher Zach Malis uncorked a wild pitch with the bases loaded, leading to another run.
The wheels were starting to come off.
But if there’s a team to overcome adversity, it’s Desert Christian.
Malis pitched six shutout innings the rest of the way and the Eagles scored four unanswered runs — all with two outs — to beat No. 2 Pusch Ridge Christian 4-2 for the third time this spring and repeat as Division IV state champions.
It was the 22nd straight win for Desert Christian. The state title caps a season full of adversity, including the sudden death of assistant coach Ryan Hanson and an ATV accident that ended sophomore Jonah Stiffey’s season.
“We did everything that Ryan taught us to do,” coach Grant Hopkins said after the game. “I’m just so grateful and happy for these boys who reached down deep and beat their rival for the third time this year. That is hard to do and we did it.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am.”
Malis ended the game with three straight strikes against Pusch Ridge first baseman Luke Haines. The pitcher retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced and finished with four strikeouts.
“There were ups and downs, but I wasn’t nervous,” said Malis, who improved to 11-1 win-loss record. “I knew we’d rally and we did. We showed a lot of character and a lot of heart today.”
Desert Christian (29-2) took the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth. Freshman Ethan Malis, Zach’s younger brother and the team’s No. 9 hitter, led off with a double. After Pusch Ridge pitcher Jacob Frithsen struck out consecutive batters and Zach Malis was hit by a pitch, junior Ryan Phillips knocked an RBI single up the middle to put his team up 3-2. Zach Malis advanced to third on the hit, and scored one batter later on an RBI single by Andrew Edwards.
“He came with me right up the middle and I just drove it right back at him,” Phillips said. “When I was running down to first base I just couldn’t help but pump my fist a little bit.
“Coach Ryan used to say a lot not to worry if we got down in the game. We never got worried through this game and pulled through at the end.”
The Eagles posted their first run in the bottom of the second when sophomore left fielder Jacob Rosson scored on a dropped third strike with two outs. Two innings later, Malis tied the game at 2-2 when he drove in Rosson from third base on a two-out single to shallow left. Mike Hanson, Ryan’s father, remained with the team following his son’s death on April 2 from a blood clot in his lung. The team seemed to come together from that point on; Hanson said Desert Christian played exactly as his son would have wanted them to.
“Ryan’s just up there jumping around,” Hanson said. “He couldn’t be any happier. I know that, and I couldn’t be any happier for him and for these young men.”