The first two hitters in Ironwood Ridge’s baseball lineup cracked a pair of fly balls during their first inning at-bats against Gilbert High School.
The two hitters, in leadoff man, Dylan Inclán and two-hitter Julian DeAlva, saw their majestic shots fall innocently into the awaiting gloves of outfielders on the warning track.
The pair of loud outs set a tone for what was to come for the hometown Nighthawks, who fell to Gilbert, 5-2, to fall to 14-9 for the season.
The Nighthawks were blanked for much of the game by Gilbert’s starting pitcher, Brandon Drew, before eking out two runs in the sixth inning to draw within one of the Tigers, 3-2.
The visiting side wasn’t daunted by the decreasing margin, however, scoring twice in the game’s final inning to take a three-run lead.
The loss, which came on senior day, was tough for longtime Ironwood Ridge coach Kevin Baker to swallow, with the team’s lack of clutch hitting putting the kibosh on one of the highest scoring lineups in the region, striking out 10 times in seven innings.
“They have to make an adjustment with two strikes, you just can't strike out with men on-base,” he said. “You just can't win like that.”
The Nighthawks lack of timely hits ultimately doomed starting pitcher Levi White, who allowed three earned runs on six hits in six innings of work.
White, who has posted a 3.12 ERA in 24 2/3 innings of work during his senior season, lamented the team’s offensive woes. The lanky right-handed pitcher knows the Nighthawks can do better than what they showed against the Tigers, but that it’ll take timely hitting to do so.
“If we just score more runs early in the game, we can get on top early and have the momentum on our side and just work together and get a win,” White said. “We just need to come back and play Nighthawk baseball.”
Baker touched on a similar narrative, noting that the two solo home runs White surrendered were the only demerits on an otherwise strong outing by the senior.
“Levi pitched really well,” Baker said. “Got a couple of balls up, and really, they just hit deep fly balls that carried. That's going to happen occasionally. But he pitched really well. It’s good to see him pitch that well on senior day.”
The Nighthawks finish the regular season with road games against Buena (4 p.m., Tuesday, April 16) and Cienega (5 p.m., Thursday, April 18).
Baker’s squad enters Tuesday’s game ranked 10th overall in 5A, meaning they’re virtually guaranteed no worse than an appearance in the 5A play-in round.
Baker wants his players to experience the joy of postseason play, a year after the Nighthawks qualified for the 16-team tournament but lost in the opening round to Buckeye’s Verrado High School.
The coach believes this year’s team is better equipped to have success in the do-or-die tournament, with Monday’s loss serving as motivation for players.
“It would mean a lot to me, but it would mean more to them, and that's the important thing,” Baker said. “I want the kids to have a good experience. They are a good enough team to make a good run. They just have to make adjustments, and they just didn't today.”