The No. 4-seed Ray baseball entered Friday night’s semifinal playoff game in Goodyear versus top-seed and rival Superior knowing it had lost both previous meeting between the teams by a combined score of 35 – 9.
The Cats made the third game between the teams a lot closer than most thought, taking the lead twice before the Panthers scored a lone run in the fifth to take a 7 – 6 lead they would not relinquish.
It was a disappointing ending to what was an otherwise spectacular season by the Cats.
“It definitely was,” Ray head coach Frank Lechuga told the Copper Basin News. “We knew what we had to do to get the job done. We changed some of our work habits and the boys dedicated some extra time to it.”
“It was a good game all around,” he continued. “Superior came out on top and deserved to win.”
Perhaps one surprising change was Lechuga tabbing senior Brett Fackiner to take the ball against the Panthers rather than ace Noah Warren, who the led the Cats with 9 wins this season.
Fackiner’s first-round performance against Rock Point – he fanned five of the six batters he faced – and the fact that he hadn’t previously started versus the Panthers were the reasons Lechuga gave for his decision.
“I decided to try to give them a little bit of twist with Mr. Fackiner,” Lechuga said. “He did one heck of a job. He was hitting his spots. A couple of calls could’ve gone either way and it could’ve been a whole different ball game.”
Ray took a 1 – 0 lead in the second before Superior’s Edgar Galindo homered in the bottom half of the inning to tie the game.
The Panthers added three runs in the third before the Cats’ offense came alive, scoring five runs in the fourth to grab a 6 – 4 lead.
Anthony Lopez and Fackiner each had two hits in the game, including a double by Fackiner, who also had an RBI. Senior Jordan pace went 1-for-3 with a pair of RBI. Jaden Pace, Anthony Acuna, Fabian Valenzuela, and Charlie Romero, who doubled, each had hits in the loss. Bray, Lopez and Valenzuela had an RBI apiece.
Superior tied it with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth before plating the difference maker in the fifth.
“I think we did a good job,” Lechuga said. “I think the main thing is we stayed focus, which was a part of the problem in the first two games; when things didn’t go our way we lost focus.”
“But the boys really grew from those two games and were able to get done what they needed to. Unfortunately we just came up one run short.”