For the second year in a row, Connor McCord played the role of playoff hero for the Tempe Corona del Sol baseball team.
The junior delivered a walk-off sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh Saturday afternoon as the Aztecs used a late rally to win 2-1 over Phoenix Pinnacle in the opening round of the Division I state baseball championships.
“We stuck with it all game,” said McCord, who hit a walk-off home run in the first round last season against Tolleson. “We fought until the end and came out with the win.
“We kind of had a little pep talk before the seventh inning started and that energized us a little bit.”
Ninth-seeded Corona del Sol will travel to eighth-seeded Mesa Mountain View for a second-round tilt Tuesday at 4 p.m.
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Down 1-0 entering the seventh, the Aztecs loaded the bases with one out before senior Matt Asta drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the game. McCord followed with a deep enough drive to left to plate the winning run.
“You’ve got to come up big for your team sometimes,” said McCord, who found himself at the bottom of a dog pile near first base. “When you do, it feels good.”
Pinnacle, the 24th seed, saw its season end at 18-14 despite one dazzling defensive play after another. The Pioneers made a handful of athletic catches in the outfield and executed a perfect relay from the left fielder to the shortstop to home to keep their slim lead in the fifth.
Trevor Crain had an RBI single for Pinnacle and starter Jacob Walker tossed five shutout innings.
“Holy cow … they played phenomenal defense,” Corona del Sol coach Dave Webb said of the Pioneers. “They played their butts off.”
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Corona del Sol pitcher Eric Schwalbe didn’t factor into the decision Saturday even though he tossed six innings of one-run ball against Pinnacle. The senior wasn’t overpowering as he struck out just one batter. Yet, Schwalbe relied on superb control as he didn’t walk a batter and allowed just six hits, all singles, to keep the Aztecs in contention long enough so they could rally in the seventh.
Scottsdale Chaparral’s Willy Thomas went 2-for-3, both of those hits coming by way of home runs, with six RBIs in a 12-11 win over Goodyear Millennium. Thomas has signed with Penn.
A trio of lower seeds in Division I advanced from the opening round Saturday as No. 18 Chandler, No. 19 Basha and 20th-seeded Chaparral all pulled off upsets.
The Division II bracket featured a few more upsets as 18th-seeded Coconino, No. 20 Marana, No. 21 Bradshaw Mountain and No. 23 San Luis each advanced.
Corona del Sol will look to leave the theatrics behind as they square off against eighth-seeded Mesa Mountain View. The Toros went 19-8 this season but five of their losses came in the final few weeks of the season. The teams did not play each other this season.
Top-ranked Chandler Hamilton, which is riding a 20-game win streak, will host No. 16 Phoenix Desert Vista on Tuesday at 4 p.m. Hamilton is looking to repeat as Division I state champions.
Top seeds took care of business in Division IV as Tucson Desert Christian, Kearny Ray, Tucson Pusch Ridge and Bagdad all advanced to the quarterfinals.