SURPRISE – It’s a good thing the Palo Verde baseball team practiced how to celebrate winning a state championship at the end of Thursday night’s practice at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium.
For a program that had never played in a state championship game before Saturday, the fifth-seeded Titans sure handled themselves well – especially right after they knocked of No. 3 Phoenix Northwest Christian 5-4 in the Division III state final at Surprise Stadium.
The win for Palo Verde snapped Northwest Christian’s 18-game winning streak and gave the 52-year-old school just its third team state title over the last decade. Its football team won the 4A-II championship in 2005 and the boys tennis team captured the 4A-II crown in 2009.
“This is a great moment for our school, it was a long time coming and I’m so happy for our kids,” longtime coach Jim Mentz said. “We needed a boost – a shot in the arm – to tell the community that Palo Verde is proud and back.
“We can do great things; I can’t say enough about all these guys.”
Senior right-hander Tyler Fallwell, a four-year player, came in for a one-out save with a runner on third in the bottom of the seventh inning after starter Jared Cochran had twice come within one strike of securing the game but gave up hits each time, letting Crusaders get in a position to tie or win.
Just like Cochran, Fallwell pulled within one strike of ending the game, with a 1-2 count But this time, the fourth pitch of the at-bat resulted in a hard shot to senior Tahmani Williams center field. Once Williams secured the catch, gloves and hats were in the air.
“When my name was called I was ready to go,” said Fallwell, who threw 102 pitches over eight shut-out innings in Friday night’s 1-0 semifinal win. “I could have thrown 500 pitches yesterday but I felt no pain today because my adrenaline was pumping.”
Williams, a three-year player, finished the game 3 for 4 and drove in a pair of runs as junior shortstop Danny Hunt went 2 for 4 with a double and a game-tying RBI triple in the top of the fourth inning after the Titans fell behind 1-0 in the second.
Hunt also scored the go-ahead run in that inning to make it 2-1 on Williams' bloop single to no-man’s land in left field one at-bat after his triple. Palo Verde never trailed from there.
“This means everything,” Hunt said about the win. “We were jut hungry, we wanted it.”
Senior left fielder Zach Redding, another three-year player, led off the fifth inning with a double to the left center gap. Then he made it 3-1 two batters later on a sacrifice fly to center field by Cochran, who finished his season 8-2 on the mound with the win.
Palo Verde (26-4) scored twice more in the inning with the help of three straight hits, including RBI singles by Williams and Johnny Dorame after Hunt doubled.
But Northwest Christian inched back and scored once in each of its final three at-bats to pull within one run of the Titans. The Crusaders even had a runner on third, 90 feet from tying the game in the bottom of the seventh inning but Fallwell shut the door and knew exactly how to react thanks to Thursday’s trial run.
“It was a great experience,” Fallwell said. “I’m glad I got to be the one to throw the last pitch and throw my glove in the air.”