Winning the Cowboy up Baseball Invitational earlier in the year, and defeating rival Canyon Del Oro, 18-6, seemed like good building blocks for the Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks baseball team (8-2) in their quest to go deep into the 2013 playoffs.
Their latest challenge was hosting a Marana Tigers team (7-3) that had won six straight coming into April 5.
Even though the bats had an off day, the Nighthawks triumphed over the Tigers, 7-4.
Sophomore Jesus Ramerez provided his first complete game, as he kept the Tigers’ bats off stride and held them to just one run in six innings, before he weakened in the seventh.
The Nighthawks gave Ramerez an early lead, as Ryan Neter hit a two-run home run for a 2-0 lead in the second. In the third, the Nighthawks added two more. After a single by Frankie Ortiz and a walk to hitter Jake Matthews, Devin Harrison ripped a two-run double to make it 4-0.
The turning point probably came in Marana's third inning. Trailing only 2-0 at the time, it seemed like the perfect time to play small ball, so first-year coach Erinn McManus put on the bunt sign. Eli Callahan and Wyatt Nale each laid down perfect bunts. Callahan's was to the right of the pitcher, while Nale's was placed between the pitcher and first baseman and allowed him to reach easily. After a walk to Travis Howard, the Tigers had the bases loaded with two outs, but Ramerez induced a clutch groundout to get out of trouble.
The momentum totally shifted to Ironwood, as the Nighthawks moved out to a 6-0 lead after that.
The Tigers finally broke through and scored in the fifth. Callahan walked and stole second. Kt Vieux singled him home to make it 6-1, before a line drive out by Howard ended the inning. Callahan now has 14 stolen bases on the season.
Strong defense, particularly in the infield, kept the Tigers in the game, and would give them a shot at the end.
"We'd won six in a row," McManus said. "Our defense kept us in all the games."
Mario Pacheco came out of the bullpen and threw smoke, as he held the Nighthawks to one hit and a single run in two innings. He struck out one, and allowed a run on a triple by Harrison and a sacrifice fly by Trey Stine. Pacheco has more strikeouts than innings pitched this year.
"Pitching is our biggest strength," McManus said. "Starting and relieving. We have so many guys who can pitch. This may be the best hitting team we've faced this year."
In their 10 non-tournament games, it was only the third time the Nighthawks have been held to less than 12 runs.
The Nighthawks took a 7-1 lead into the seventh, but closing out the game wouldn't be easy.
Pacheco lined a single down the left-field line. Chris Tweedy attempted to beat out a bunt, and sacrificed the runner to second. Callahan erased the lead runner, and after reaching second base, hurt himself and had to leave the game.
Wyatt Nale extended the game with a two-out single. Then, Vieux blasted a three-run home run to make it 7-4.
A fly out to right-field ended the drama.
"Marana has definitely improved," Harrison said. "We had some good timely hitting."
For the Nighthawks, their push to a playoff run continues this week on Thursday, April 11 when they travel to Cholla.