Phoenix Sunnyslope coach Jeff Shillington knew Tucson Sahuaro was not going to make it easy for the defending champions.
So when the No. 4 seed’s bats got hot in the seventh inning, and Sahuaro began chopping into No. 5 Sunnyslope’s seven-run lead, Shillington wasn’t at all surprised.
However, the late charge was not quite enough for Sahuaro to catch Sunnyslope, which escaped with an 8-5 victory Thursday in the Division II fourth-round playoff game at Camelback Ranch.
“That’s a very good team,” Shillington said. “Everything I’ve been told about them is that they’re not going to give up. They’re not going to give in at any point and that’s exactly what we saw today.”
Sunnyslope will face the winner of Yuma Gila Ridge and Chandler Seton Catholic at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Trailing 8-1 heading into the final inning, Sahuaro’s Frankie Silva got things going with an RBI single. Nick Cisney scored on a sacrifice fly, and a dropped fly ball to center scored two more runners to move the score to 8-4. Justin Hammergren hit an RBI double to center that brought Sahuaro within three runs, but with two outs, Winston Welch grounded out to end the inning and the save game for Sunnyslope.
Sunnyslope pitcher Calvin LeBrun, who pitched a complete game, said he had faith in his defense despite Sahuaro’s big final inning.
“I was just trying to make pitches when I needed to and let my defense handle it,” he said. “They’ve played defense for me all year, and clearly, they made some great plays today.”
Royal Love kick-started Sunnyslope early with a three-run double in the first inning that scored Max Fabricant, Casey Bowman and Chandler Cole and gave the team a 3-0 lead.
Sunnyslope tacked on another run in the third and RBI singles from LeBrun and Ryan Oberg followed by an RBI double from Cody Bergkamp in the fourth added three more runs to stretch the lead to 7-0. Getting an early lead to give LeBrun a cushion was critical, Shillington said.
“We really talked about finding a way … to get some runs early,” he said.