Corey Wheaton learned in the span of one inning just how important it is to be decisive.
An error by the Desert Mountain second baseman in the top of the seventh extended Thursday night’s playoff contest against No. 24 Corona del Sol, but his bold baserunning move just minutes later resulted in a 5-4 win for the top-seeded Wolves in a Division I baseball state tournament game at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
With a runner on third base but just one out away from a 4-3 victory, Wheaton hesitated fielding a slow chopper and was caught by the in-between bounce, allowing Jeff Carter to score the tying run.
But with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the frame, Wheaton quickly broke toward home after a routine throw back to pitcher Nathan Chokey bounced off his glove and dropped into the grass behind the mound. Shortstop Josh Ethier picked it up and fired to catcher Colby Hamilton, but it wasn’t in time.
“One of my coaches always told me, ‘You’ve got to take big risks to win games,’” Wheaton said. “So I took a risk. I saw that ball up and went.”
Desert Mountain coach Brian Stephenson said the play was only possible because Wheaton stayed alert, refusing to take for granted even a simple toss from catcher to pitcher.
“He had done it the whole at-bat, just anticipating if that were to happen,” Stephenson said. “He got enough and he’s awful fast. It was a great play.”
It was a shocking ending for the Aztecs, who trailed 4-1 after three innings but chipped away. They pulled to within one on consecutive RBI singles from Ryan Riley and Carter in the fourth, but seemed to be done after David Greer set down the first two batters in the seventh inning.
Carter — who went 2-for-3 with a walk at the plate and made a great play in the field when he caught a pop-up and nailed a tagging runner at home — kept hope alive with a triple down the right field line, and Chokey put pressure on Wheaton by sprinting down the line on his high chopper to force the error and tie the score.
Wheaton walked and Greer was hit by a pitch to start the seventh. Cody Erickson sacrificed them to second and third, and Ben Rodriguez was walked intentionally to load the bases.
Chokey thought he struck out clean-up hitter Jake McAdams with a 2-2 curveball, but didn’t get the call. The throw back from Hamilton glanced off his glove, allowing Wheaton to scamper home.
“Never could have dreamt that one out,” Corona del Sol coach Dave Webb said. “That’s tough.”
Desert Mountain stays in the winners’ bracket and will face No. 4 Pinnacle on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Corona del Sol will face No. 5 Tolleson in an elimination game on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
“We’re not done,” Webb said. “We’ll rally back up and be ready to go.”