FOUNTAIN HILLS – An unbeaten season would have been fun.
But it’s not going to happen.
And, like a person doused with water, anyone dreaming of such a thing was awakened with a cold bucket of reality in the very first game of the season.
Phoenix Northwest Christian scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to rally for a 9-8 win over Payson at the Fountain Hills Invitational on Wednesday.
Then, after bouncing back to beat Phoenix Bourgade Catholic 7-2 later Wednesday, the Longhorns fell to 1-2 with another tough loss on Friday in the same tournament, this one by a 7-6 score to Winslow.
“It was disappointing to the players,” head coach Brian Young said of the opening loss. “But if people expect us to be undefeated with our strength of schedule, then they will have to be more realistic.
“Obviously we are disappointed in our record to start the season. But we lost two one-run games to top 10 teams.”
PHS was No. 4 in the Arizona Republic’s preseason rankings, while Northwest Christian was No. 5 and Winslow No. 9. Fountain Hills was No. 1.
Payson was scheduled to wrap up the tournament with a game against Camp Verde on Saturday but it was rained out.
The good thing about the slow start for the Longhorns is tournament games don’t count in the power rankings, which are used to seed the Division III state tournament.
PHS opens the power points schedule at home against Cottonwood Mingus at 4 p.m. Thursday, although the game likely won’t start until about 4:30 since the junior varsity plays at 2.
The coach is hoping his Longhorns are ready to put the Fountain Hills experience behind them.
“As coaches, we are evaluating how the preseason has gone and will make sure we put in the work to start the power point games at our strongest,” Young said. “It doesn’t get any easier against Mingus. Then we take a long trip to Morenci on Friday.”
The Longhorns were hoping to go 3-0 in pool play in Fountain Hills to play a championship game, probably against defending state champion Fountain Hills on Saturday. The Falcons went 3-0 to win the other pool. However, things just didn’t work out with a pair of tough defeats.
“The list of positives from the Winslow game is much bigger than the list of negatives,” Young said. “Our guys never gave up and had a lot of fire at the end of the game. We kept our composure, put together good at bats, and saw some of our pitchers bounce back from previously poor outings. We still have only struck out eight times in 20 innings. I think there are going to be plenty of games were we put double digit runs on the board, but we haven’t put it all together, yet.”
Northwest Christian 9, Payson 8
The Longhorns scored five runs in the top of the third to take a 6-0 lead. But the Crusaders (2-1), who later lost 12-5 to Winslow, tied it 6-6 after five innings. PHS scored twice in the top of the seventh to go ahead 8-6. Payson was one out from winning but NWC wound up scoring three times in the bottom of the seventh, the winning run coming home on a passed ball.
“The bottom of the seventh was a struggle for us,” Young said. “They got a couple of dinky hits, we hit a couple of batters and the game ended on a passed ball. We outhit them 13-8 but they out-performed us defensively and that was the difference.
“Our guys were just a little too excited at times on the field and it led to us rushing some plays that we will make as the season goes on. I loved the intensity from our guys, but at times we have to be able to harness it. Ultimately the loss falls on me as I didn’t have us as prepared for a couple of situations that popped up as we should be.”
Miguel Mendoza started and scattered five runs – three earned – in 4-1/3 innings, striking out seven and walking one before running out of gas. Dailey Carnes worked 1-2/3 innings, surrendering one hit and fanning three before giving way to Nick McMullen to start the seventh. He allowed two hits, a walk and hit two, while striking out a pair in 2/3 of an inning. Two of the three runs he allowed were earned.
“That’s the situation we wanted for him to close games,” Young said of the senior. “Unfortunately, he just didn’t have the command we have seen from him in our scrimmage situations.” Mendoza was 2-for-3 and Carnes and Konner Duran 2-for-4 with an RBI and McMullen 2-for-4. Taran Sarnowski singled in two runs. Ruben Estrada tripled and drove in one, David Evans doubled and drove in a run and Tyus Sarnowski doubled in a run and stole two bases.
Payson 7, Bourgade Catholic 2
The Longhorns had another big game at the plate, pounding out 12 hits. Ruben Estrada had two hits, two RBI and two steals, Carnes two hits, including a double, and an RBI, and Mendoza and Carl Adcock also both had two hits and drove in one. Tyus Sarnowski also had two hits. McMullen singled and drove in one.
“I feel good about where we are at offensively, putting up double digit hits in both games,” Young said after the game.
Tyus Sarnowski limited the Golden Eagles (0-3) to two hits and one walk while fanning 13, including nine in a row, in six shutout innings for the win. Duran finished with one inning of two-hit, three-strikeout relief, allowing two runs – one earned.
“Tyus threw extremely well and comfortable on the mound,” Young said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better performance from Tyus.”
Winslow 7, Payson 6
The Bulldogs (3-0) scored five runs in the first three innings to go ahead 5-2. Winslow added two more in the fifth to go ahead 7-2 before PHS scored twice in the sixth and added two in the seventh to make it close.
Winslow out-hit PHS 12-7. Mendoza had two hits. McMullen’s bases-loaded single up the middle with two outs in the bottom of the sixth drove in two runs to cut the deficit to 7-4 before the runner ahead of him was thrown out trying to advance from first to third. McMullen drove in three.
Tyus Sarnowski, who doubled in a run, walked to lead off the seventh and Taran Sarnowski belted a two-run home run to make it 7-6 with no outs. Mendoza singled and Evans walked to put runners on first and second with two outs. Estrada, who tripled and scored three runs, popped out to the catcher to end it.
“A little bit of a slow start for us, but we bounced back nicely in the last couple of innings to make it really close,” Young said. “Again, we were right in a position to win the game, we just didn’t execute with the opportunities that we had. We had guys on base all day, we just didn’t get them across. We left 10 guys on base and that is the difference in a one-run game for us.”
Carnes suffered the loss, pitching the first four innings, surrendering seven hits, two walks and five runs while fanning five. Taran Sarnowski allowed five hits, a walk and two runs in two innings and McMullen fanned three in a one inning.
“It was a nice bounce back for Nick from the other day,” Young said. “We expect that to be more of the norm when he is on the mound compared to the other day. Our pitchers have had some tough luck over the weekend with balls just dropping in that are not hit all that hard. I don’t think we have seen very many balls hit hard against us yet, just some bad breaks. Overall our pitchers did enough to win this game.”