July 20, 2005 - With the Frontier All-Stars down to their final strike in the championship game of the 9- and 10-year-olds' Arizona District Five Little League Tournament on July 14 at Udall Park, 7200 E. Tanque Verde, a wry smile came across Jacob Matthews' face.
Perhaps the Coronado Little League pitcher's smirk was a bit premature, or maybe he knew something the opposing hitter didn't. One pitch later, a fastball blown by the hapless Frontier Little League batter who couldn't even swing at it, Matthews was jumping off the mound, his arms thrust in the air in search of his exalting teammates.
Matthews' strikeout, his 11th of the game, capped off a 10-2 win over Frontier and an unblemished run for Coronado through the 9- and 10-year-olds' baseball tourney. Six games up and six very good All-Star teams set aside.
The win for the Coronado boys earned them a spot in this week's Arizona State Little League Tournament, which began with games July 18 in Peoria.
"I was thinking, 'we're going to state,'" explained Matthews after the game, his gap-toothed smile lighting up an otherwise unbearably hot Tucson summer night.
Coronado's run through the tournament was made possible by the perfect combination of offense and pitching.
"Pitching and hitting - that's what you've got to do on this level to win games," said Coronado manager Marty Flack, "and we've got both."
Moments later, Flack received a Gatorade bucket ice-shower by teammates in a championship ritual enjoyed by professionals and little leaguers alike.
While Matthews has busy mowing down hitters, Coronado batters were making life uncomfortable for opposing pitchers, outscoring their opposition 78-19 in six games.
The highlight of the tourney may have come in the semifinal match-up against the Canyon View National League team. In that game, Coronado jumped on Canyon View Little League early, thanks in part to a first inning grand slam over the fence in left-centerfield off the bat of Kurt Bailey. Coronado went on to win that game 7-4 to advance to the championship game, in which the catcher once again came through with first inning heroics. This time, his three-run triple proved to be all Coronado would need to dismantle Frontier and send both player and parents into hysterics.
For every team that gets the chance to douse its coach in exaltation, there are those that fall just short of their dreams. The Marana Seniors Girls softball squad found this out the hard way July 12 against Tucson Mountain Little League All-Stars. Playing in the championship game at Arthur Pack Park, 9101 N. Thornydale Road, Marana was felled by one bad inning that doomed the team of 14- and 15-year-olds 11-4. Tied at four heading into the final inning, Marana (2-2) came unraveled, giving up seven runs to seal its fate.
With the bases loaded and one out and the game still tied, Marana manager Steve Gonzalez lifted his pitcher Julie Martinez, a sophomore at Marana High School, in favor of Courtney Armbruster. Armbruster, who had pitched well for several innings already in that game in relief, was victim to several timely hits and costly errors.
"I told the girls I take full responsibility for this one," Gonzalez said after the game. Gonzalez was holding fast to a system in which Martinez and Armbruster each took turns on the mound, switching every nine batters to throw off the opposition. Until that last inning, the formula worked.
Since making the state tourney last year, Marana has seen a surge in its enrollment. Still, compiling an All-Star squad from two regular season teams proved somewhat difficult.
"They stuck it out," he said. "I'm real proud of them."
Tanque Verde Little League proved to be the organization to beat during the All-Star competition, winning four of the nine league tournaments, including senior baseball, 9- and 10-year-olds' softball, and Major and Junior softball.
A perennial powerhouse, the Canyon Del Oro All-Stars fell short in their bids to advance to state. No CDO team, baseball or softball, will make the trip this summer to the state tourney held in Phoenix.