A large and very loud crowd of Sahuarita Mustang baseball fans made the trip to Mesa on Monday to watch their team face rival Sabino in the state 3A championship game.
What they saw at the HoHoKam Stadium was a five-inning pitching duel between Sahuarita’s Jose Dicochea and Sabino’s Mike Snyder.
The scoreless five innings ended when a Sabino runner reached first on a walk. A questionable call on a pick-off throw to first base kept the runner alive and he completed his trip around the bases to put Sabino up, 1-0.
It wasn’t that the Mustangs couldn’t put bat to ball, they just could not consistently put the ball into any holes in the Sabercats’ defense.
In the third inning, the Mustangs stranded runners at second and third base. Another scoring chance was lost in the fourth inning on a double play.
Sabino managed two more runs in the final inning to win, 3-0.
“I have to tip my hat to them, they just got the timely hits and we didn’t,” Coach Sam Gelardi said. “I could not be any prouder of the boys. It is hard to get to the title, but to get to two title games in a row takes a lot of luck and a lot of skill. These boys played hard and practiced hard all season long and battled to the end. We are gonna let it hurt for a little while and then ask, ‘What can I do today to get better?’ ”
En route to their Class 3A runner-up title, the Mustangs racked up a 24-6 record.
Sahuarita and Sabino faced off in last year’s championship game. Sabino won, 6-4, but was stripped of the title in August after it was determined two AIA rules were violated. Sabercats Coach Mark Chandler resigned that same month. The championship was vacated and Sahuarita was not awarded the title.
In September, Sabino’s year-long probation — which would have denied them post-season play this year — was reduced to a warning.
Tucson Unified School District’s investigation last summer found coaches misused booster club money and had prior contact with athletes.
The 2019 season is over, but Gelardi says the future for Mustang baseball starts right now.
“We will always be in the hunt. It is in our DNA to be a perennial baseball powerhouse; good baseball is always expected here. We have a great bunch of assistant coaches that I want to thank. Baseball for us is a year-long thing and these coaches work relentless hours and we wouldn’t be who we are without them.”
The coach doesn’t use the word rebuilding.
“We have some great younger kids, they are talented and they are eager. We are reloading.”