CASA GRANDE — A hotly contested battle between two of the best baseball teams in 4A went down to the wire Monday night, and it ended on a call that left the home team furious.
No. 2 Vista Grande rallied from a 5-0 deficit but ultimately came up short in a 6-5 loss to No. 3 Poston Butte (16-1, 10-0 4A Black Canyon). With the victory, the Broncos clinched their first outright baseball region crown in program history.
Heading into the bottom of the seventh, Vista Grande (10-2, 5-2) trailed 6-5. Emilio Barreras led off the inning with a walk, and Anthony Bolanos was hit by a pitch. The Spartans then executed a double steal, putting runners at second and third with no outs.
Chuy Santos struck out, bringing Cesar Portillo to the plate with one out. Portillo drove a fly ball to right field, which was caught. Barreras tagged from third and raced home. The relay throw went to third base, where Bolanos was tagged out.
It appeared Barreras was safe at home plate before the runner was tagged out at third, but the home plate umpire ruled the opposite, which nullified the potential tying run and ended the game.
Vista Grande coach Harley Grigg vehemently protested the call but to no avail.
“The home plate umpire apparently saw ... he said there was an out at third before the run scored, which I don’t know,” Spartans assistant coach Victor Olivares said. “That means he was looking at two places at once, so how he did that was a question for me.”
Barreras was the starting pitcher for Vista Grande, and he was effective. He got into trouble in the fifth, when the Broncos tagged him for three runs. Ethan Hatch had a ringing RBI double, and he was followed by Colten Vercoe, who blasted a two-run homer over the wall in left-center.
Barreras pitched five innings and allowed five runs (three earned) on five hits while striking out seven. At the plate, he was 1 for 3 with an RBI double and a walk.
Broncos coach Chris Holcombe said it was clear these two teams were going to battle for the region title, and he added it was a major accomplishment to win the region.
“We’ve never won an outright region title at Poston Butte,” he said. “So that was a big deal. That was a big goal for us at the beginning of the season.”
Poston Butte had Octavio Flores on the mound, and he held the powerful Vista Grande offense at bay for the first four innings. He accomplished this despite scattershot command that resulted in five hit batters. He did not allow a hit until Portillo doubled off him with two outs in the fourth.
Flores allowed three hits in 5 1/3 innings before he was replaced by Tyler Child after loading the bases on a double and two hit batsmen. Sebastian Hidrogo then hit a ground ball to second base that was misplayed for an error. That was followed by an error on an overthrow from center field, and all three runs scored to make it a 5-4 game. The tying run then scored on a passed ball.
Poston Butte’s Junior Lopez led off the seventh by drawing a walk and stealing second. He advanced to third on a wild pitch then scored on a passed ball to give the Broncos a 6-5 lead.
Olivares was proud of how his team fought, but he was also disappointed in defensive mistakes that proved costly.
“We battled back and all that, but at the end of the day [it’s about] making those routine plays early in the game,” he said. “Definitely a tough way to lose.”
Lopez was sensational, reaching base in all four of his plate appearances on a hit by pitch, single, double and a walk.