It doesn’t get much better than playing baseball in Arizona in April.
Especially if you get to play at Chase Field like Phoenix Desert Vista (10-10) and No. 7 Tempe Corona Del Sol (16-3) did Thursday afternoon.”It’s unbelievable,” said Corona coach Dave Webb. “Every year, we get this opportunity, if we raise some money – which is easy to do; everybody wants Diamondbacks tickets in the spring.”
For Corona’s senior right-handed pitcher Eric Schawlbe, who struck out four Desert Vista hitters en route to a 4-2 win, it was a chance to fulfill a childhood fantasy of pitching off of a big-league mound.
“It’s 80 degrees, the roof’s open, great atmosphere,” Schawlbe said. “You can’t ask for much more.”
It was more than just the setting that made Corona’s victory significant – the fact that it came against Desert Vista, a Section II rival whom Corona recently defeated for its fourth straight Division I basketball state title.
“I love their coaches and their team,” Webb said. “We’re really good friends with their coaches. … One of the classiest programs in Arizona. That’s really special.”
While the programs share mutual respect, for players, that takes a backseat to defeating a rival.
“It’s great, they’re a huge rival,” Schwalbe said. “I love beating (Desert Vista) any day of the year.”
Desert Vista starting pitcher Zach Hardy cruised through his first three innings, and drove in the first run of the day on a one-out single up the middle after Chris McKinney reached on an error to lead off the game.
“(Hardy) is a tough arm,” Webb said. “He had a zero ERA coming into this one. Playing in a big stadium, it’s a bit different; the ball looks a bit different. It took us a few innings, but we came through (in the fourth).”
Corona wasn’t able to generate much offense in the early innings, but didn’t look back once it broke through in the fourth inning.
“We always say, ‘Love it in the kitchen,’ ” Webb said. “They jumped up and wanted to be the guys, and we preach about two-out runs, it’s one of those things that really hurts an opposing pitcher.”
In addition to earning the win, Schwalbe went 2 for 3 with two singles and an RBI for Corona.
Six of Corona’s nine hits (and all of its four runs) came in the fourth, including a bunt single by right fielder Matt Weston with the game tied to drive in the go-ahead run.
“That was clutch,” Schawlbe said. “It was perfect, a big momentum booster.”
Desert Vista stranded runners on first and third in the top half of the fourth and chipped away in the fifth with a run on an RBI ground out with runners on first and third and no outs, but failed to get any closer.
Shortstop Brock Burton hit two doubles and scored on a fielder’s choice in the fifth to cut Desert Vista’s deficit to two, but the team was held to just six hits.
“We got a gutsy performance from (Schawlbe),” Webb said. “That’s why he’s our ace, he loves those situations.”
Corona hosts Chandler Basha Friday at 3:45 p.m., and Desert Vista hosts Gilbert at 4:00 p.m.
Photos: Corona del Sol vs. Desert Vista