MESA — Salpointe Catholic reliever Cade McGee had made quite a mess.
Entering with a man on first in the bottom of the seventh inning of Monday’s Class 4A state championship at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, the sophomore hit the first Gilbert Mesquite batter and walked the second, loading the bases. The three-run lead, which seemed so insurmountable just a minute earlier, was in jeopardy.
McGee looked at his teammates.
“They told me, ‘We’re going to dog pile,’ and I had to make sure that happened for them,” McGee said.
With a run-scoring grounder to shortstop and a sacrifice fly to left, McGee had the first two outs, and he didn’t hesitate in getting the third.
On three pitches, he struck out Jacob Henderson, and his teammates made good on the dog-pile promise, celebrating the program’s first state title with a 4-3 victory over top-ranked Mesquite.
The journey there was bumpy.
The No. 2 Lancers (25-6) struck out 15 times, including 12 at the hands of Mesquite starter T.J. Clarkson, a Utah commit. But all the swing and misses turned out to be a blessing.
Clarkson hit his pitch count in the fifth inning, and Salpointe didn’t waste the opportunity.
Mesquite’s reliever, Henderson, threw two wild pitches, plating a run, and the Lancers added another in the seventh when pinch-hitter Nomar Basturo crushed a triple to the wall in right-center field and was singled in by senior Jose Cornejo. The burly first baseman finished with two hits and three RBIs, helping avenge the championship loss from two years ago to Nogales.
“We know we’re a good team. We know we can finish,” Cornejo said with blood dripping from his nose. “That last out was so special. It just felt like everything was accomplished and it had all come together.”
The dramatic ending overshadowed a gutsy outing from Salpointe starter Jaeden Swanberg.
He wore a wide smile as he walked to the dugout with no outs in the seventh, having allowed just one earned run on five hits with three walks and four strikeouts, all his final two innings.
After the game, the players paused before joining their families, plenty of whom made the trip up to Phoenix. The school’s athletic director Phil Gruensfelder was passing out medals, signifying this group’s induction into the school’s hall of fame, an honor coach Danny Preble thought was well-deserved.
“These guys understand the game,” Preble said. “If nothing else, they’ve learned how to play the game the right way. We did a really good job all year of staying even. Growing up, I was told, don’t ride the roller coaster of emotion, and we never did that.”