TEMPE — Sahuaro first baseman Justin Hammergren launched a three-run homer in the second inning of Friday’s Division II state quarterfinal game at Tempe Diablo Stadium, but, believe it or not, that wasn’t his biggest play of the afternoon.
Instead, a simple hustle play on an infield single to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning ended up to be much more valuable.
Second-seeded Sahuaro pulled within one win of reaching the Division II state finals Friday when senior Hunter Green drove in Hammergen with a walk-off single to right to lock up an 8-7 victory over No. 3 Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain at Diablo Stadium.
“That was the ball game right there,” coach Mark Chandler said about Hammergren’s leadoff hit. “That set the tone right there and changed absolutely everything.”
It was the third straight win for the Cougars, who don’t play again until Thursday night when they will face top-seeded Phoenix Greenway at Maryvale Baseball Stadium. A win there would put them in the state finals for the first time since 2007.
“This is an absolutely huge win for us” Green said. “We needed to win this game because now we have two opportunities to go to the state championship.
“I think we have a great chance.”
Sahuaro (24-5) jumped out to a 7-0 lead after three innings but came extremely close to dropping to the losers bracket after it gave up four runs in the top of the seventh inning, allowing the Bears to tie the game at 7.
Senior catcher Jake North-rup took the mound in relief after an error helped put left-hander Vinnie Tarantola into a bases-loaded jam in the top of the seventh.
Dallas Riggs, the first batter Northrup faced, shot a three-run triple to the left-center gap and scored the tying run one batter later on a single. But after that, Northrup settled down for two scoreless innings to earn the win.
“I never lost faith in our team,” Tarantola said. “I knew we were going to find a way to pull out of it.”
Hammergren outran the pitcher to first base on a grounder to the right side to get things started in the bottom of the ninth.
Senior Winston Welch followed that with a walk to move Hammergren into scoring position, and Green lined a ball over the second baseman to start the celebration.
“It’s just playoff baseball,” Hammergren said. “Anything can happen.
“You can have a seven-run lead like we did, but they came back and battled.”
No. 1 Phoenix Greenway 9, No. 4 Nogales 1: At Tempe Diablo Stadium, the Apaches had an eight-game winning streak snapped and fell to the losers bracket with the loss to top-seeded Greenway.
Nogales (25-6) will face either No. 7 Buckeye Verrado or No. 11 Cave Creek Cactus Shadows on Tuesday.
Junior Alan Garcia led off the fourth inning with a single and scored Nogales’ only run three batters later on a groundout by Marcus Muñoz.