It's been a tough week for Peoria High baseball's rebuilding process.
The Panthers led defending West Valley Region champion Copper Canyon 5-2 entering the bottom of the seventh inning, only to see the Aztecs tie it up, force extra innings and win 7-6 on senior Alex Gutierrez's walk-off two-run homer
There was a carryover effect to Thursday's rematch at Peoria. Copper Canyon's bats remained hot, powering a 9-0 lead. Senior Dru Douglas and junior Derrick Soto drove in two runs, while Antonio Parra added another RBI in the Aztecs' seven-run second inning.
"I wanted to give (Austin Tennant) a chance to battle it off," first-year Peoria head coach Brian Batty said. "I also think we were a little flat because Tuesday was so emotional."
But — in what has to qualify as a small victory for a program for a program that went 10-69 in the past three years — Peoria (6-11, 1-3 West Valley) made a spirited comeback. The Panthers cut their deficit to 9-8 by the bottom of the fourth, but gave Copper Canyon (9-9, 4-1) a few runs with late miscues in a 14-8 loss.
Peoria's rally began with two outs in the bottom of the second. After two walks, senior William Rudolph knocked a run in. Senior Jacob Zehr singled to load the bases.
Sophomore Ira Rojas unloaded them by lofting a fly ball just beyond the right fielder's grasp, and wound up with a triple. Sophomore Travis Rairden walked, then got caught in a rundown. However, Rairden stayed alive long enough to let Rojas score, slicing the Aztecs' lead to 9-5.
Junior pitcher Jacob Sandrik came on to pitch two scoreless innings. Then, the Panthers struck again with two outs and the bases empty.
Zehr hit a double, Rojas was hit by a pitch and both moved up on a wild pitch. A walk loaded the bases and Zehr scored on a wild pitch. Senior Trent Aldrete drove in two more runs on a single to right center.
""My philosophy is we will never quit. The kids knew that, they've heard that enough," Batty said. "We're starting to get two-out rallies going. They've bought in to what we're trying to preach to them."
Sandrik nearly got out of a jam in the fifth, but his wild pitch with the bases loaded put Copper Canyon up 10-8. Copper Canyon starter Michael Hernandez righted himself, shutting down the Panthers in the final three innings.
Junior Brandon Crawford relieved Sandrik, and allowed runs on a bases-loaded walk, a Gerardo Elizade RBI and a sacrifice fly. In the seventh, Crawford was hit just below the knee on a line drive and threw wildly to first base.
The Aztecs' 14th run came in and Rojas came on while Crawford was looked at by trainers.
It's a season of teaching moments at Peoria. Batty said he hopes the Panthers feel a bit hurt by the last two games, and are able to use it as motivation Friday when they travel to Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain.
Still, Batty said, comebacks like Thursday's are a sign of a team getting over its downtrodden history.
"We're learning to battle, but as I told them, learning to battle isn't the same as learning to win," Batty said. "But I'm proud of them. They're a good group of kids."