MESA — Sabino’s Adam Villasenior barely made contact with the ball, but it dribbled up third-base line in the perfect spot.
At that moment, the Class 3A baseball state championship became a two-man race.
“I just thought, ‘Run as fast as you can,’” Villasenior said. “That was the hardest I’ve run all year.”
The senior second baseman, who coach Shane Folson admitted is not “the fastest guy on the team,” tore up the first-base line while Sahuarita pitcher Jose Dicochea grabbed at the grounder.
Dicochea hoped to keep the game scoreless but his 90-plus mile-per-hour fastball reached first base just a few milliseconds too late. As the Arizona commit slammed his fists into the turf, Sabino had its breakthrough moment at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa.
That first run, coming with two outs in the fifth inning, proved to be enough in Monday’s 3-0 victory over No. 4 Sahuarita (24-6).
Sabino’s stellar pitching staff rode a 24-scoreless-inning streak into the game with its ace, Mike Snyder, on the mound. But facing Dicochea, who finished the season with 86 strikeouts in 54 innings, the game was destined to be a pitcher’s duel.
Snyder capped off his complete-game shutout with a backflip on the mound as center fielder Riley Squire hauled in the final out. While Dicochea finished with 10 strikeouts in six innings, Snyder won by pitching aggressively, allowing just three hits and two walks with seven strikeouts.
He escaped a second-and-third jam in the second inning by blowing a high fastball past Angel Ortiz and never looked back.
“He’s been money all year,” Folsom said. “He’s been our guy. Sahuarita had never seen him, and last year we didn’t throw him. So we were confident.”
As the Sabercats celebrated with the trophy, they held up four fingers and a few players shouted out, “Back to back!”
Last season, Sabino also beat Sahuarita in the state championship game, but its first state title in 21 years was vacated after an investigation by the Arizona Interscholastic Association uncovered several violations under the previous coach Mark Chandler.
Folsom, who was hired from Catalina in November, said his players never stopped believing they were champions.
“Just because it was taken away doesn’t mean we cheated or did anything wrong,” said Preston Clifford, Sabino’s starting pitcher during last year’s state title game.
“This team came to work from Day 1 and just continued to work.”
The Patriots are headed to yet another Super Bowl, which made us wonder how the coach known for his straight-to-the-point comments would compare with the no-nonsense leader who rallied the British during World War II.
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