Cole Gleason started the 5A Division I state baseball tournament the same way he began the regular season two months and change ago - he pitched Mesa Red Mountain to a win and delivered some offense.
The offense Gleason came up with wasn't as powerful as in the season opener, but his RBI single in the fifth Saturday afternoon proved to be the difference as Red Mountain edged Mesa Mountain View, 3-2, in a first-round game at Mountain View.
Red Mountain (17-12), wary of Mountain View heading into the game despite beating the Toros three times earlier this season, advances to the winner's bracket on at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Tempe Diablo Stadium. The Mountain Lions face tournament top seed Scottsdale Desert Mountain, an 11-6 winner over Phoenix Mountain Pointe. Mountain View (17-12) hosts Phoenix Mountain Pointe in a losers' bracket game at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
"We emphasized before the game we couldn't take this game for granted," Red Mountain coach Jason Grantham said. "It didn't matter we beat them three times before. They're a good team and very capable of beating us. It was a hard-fought game. The atmosphere was definitely a notch up from the regular season."
Gleason, a sophomore, walloped two homers and was the starting and winning pitcher opening day in late February when Red Mountain beat Mountain View, 7-2. Gleason's two-out hit to right was just inches out of the lunging reach of Toros second baseman Anthony Reda. It scored Kelly Walsh, who opened the inning with an infield single off the glove of Mountain View reliever Trent Stapley.
Gleason, who hit .478 during the regular season with 12 homers and 39 RBIs, grounded out to third and to second his first two times up. When he came to bat in the fifth, first base was open. The Toros opted to face Gleason. Gleason got the hit on a 2-0 pitch that was up, but not enough that he couldn't get a good pass at it.
"We got him the first two times," Mountain View coach Mike Thiel said. "We felt we could get him out. We know he's a good hitter. We didn't want to intentionally walk him and put two runners on. A double after that could cost you two runs. Then we're down two in a game where runs are at a premium. If we get him out, we made the right decision. We don't, so it's the wrong one."
Mountain View trailed 2-0 in the top of the second after a bizarre two-run, inside-the-park home run by Red Mountain's Ty Grant. Grant (3-for-3 on the day) lined a pitch by Mountain View freshman Willie Ethington to right center. The ball hopped once and into the ivy that lines the outfield. Toros right fielder Hayden Rogers signaled the ball was stuck in the ivy, but the ball fell out after a couple seconds. Grant who stopped at second momentarily, began running again and came all the way home. Ground rules at Mountain View allow for a double only if the ball remains lodged in the ivy. Since it fell out, the ball and play was live.
Mountain View came back to tie the game in its half of the third. An RBI double by Reda and RBI ground-out by Connor Knoles evened the score.
Mountain View left runners on at second or third in each of the first, fourth, fifth and seventh innings. The Toros had the entire crowd on edge with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Rogers reach on an error and Reda singled to right to put runners on first and third and bringing Gus Monteverde to the plate. Grantham went out to talk to Gleason at that point.
"I asked him what he wanted to do," Grantham said. "He said, 'Strike the batter out.' You want your pitcher to have that confidence. He wanted to be out there in that situation."
Gleason didn't get the strikeout. He threw a pitch in the dirt that allowed Reda to go to second, putting both runners in scoring position. Gleason settled for Monteverde hitting a chopper to shortstop T.J. Bennett, whose throw beat Monteverde to first by a step.