Backs against the wall on several occasions during the 4A baseball championship, Mesquite head coach Jeff Holland never lost faith in his pitching staff.
Junior right-hander Sebastian Granillo started on the mound for the Wildcats while senior right-handed pitcher Luis Morales came in for the save in midway through the top-half of the sixth frame. Both found themselves in jams throughout their outings, but they both delivered.
Behind the arms of both Granillo and Morales, second-ranked Mesquite held off No. 4 Salpointe Catholic 2-1 in a rematch of the 2019 4A title game Monday night at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
“It was déjà vu all over again,” Holland said. “(Salpointe Catholic head coach Danny Prebble) does a hell of a job with those kids. I tell them we have to play 21 outs. We played till the last out.
“No one thought we’d be here. Except us.”
Both teams were locked in a pitcher’s duel through the first inning, as Salpointe Catholic right-hander Dawson McHughes found success on the mound early on. Mesquite managed to muster a hit in the bottom of the second off the bat of Levi Morrison. Two batters later, a sacrifice fly by Chris Robles scored the Wildcats’ first run of the game.
The RBI by Robles was his first of two on the night as he was responsible for both of Mesquite’s runs. His second came in the bottom of the fourth inning in the form of a single.
“I was just trying to do my job as a (designated hitter),” Robles said. “We worked hard all year. In January, you would’ve never imagined us being here. But we made it and we won. It just feels great.
“We worked so hard, and we deserve it.”
On several occasions Salpointe Catholic had a chance to either tie or take the lead over Mesquite throughout the night. Three straight walks in the fourth inning left Granillo in a jam with bases loaded and two outs.
He managed to get out of it with his fourth strikeout of the night, but he faced a similar situation in the fifth and sixth innings. On each occasion, however, he managed to record the third and final out.
Between Granillo and Morales when he took over after 6 2/3 innings, Salpointe left 15 runners on base. The Lancers’ lone run came in the sixth in the form of a wild pitch with the bases loaded. But even then, Mesquite managed to hang on.
The final out came in the top of the seventh with two runners on for Salpointe. Morales forced a pop up between first and second base. Mesquite second baseman Jake Gorrell got under the ball to make the final out.
“My teammates, my defense, I trusted them all the way,” Granillo said of his ability to maintain composure in several jams. “I knew Luis would come in and get the job done. Especially with this being a rematch and us coming out on top this time, it was much needed.”
Holland praised his pitching staff for their ability to navigate out of tough situations. He also gave credit to his entire team for their tenacity and positive mindset throughout an emotional game. In five state championship appearances, Holland called Monday night’s 4A title game the most intense.
Even after receiving an ice bath from his players, he was all smiles with the way his team performed.
“Out of the five I have been in this was probably one of the most tense,” Holland said. “I was disappointed we didn’t win in 2019. We were in the same situations, bases loaded with runners on. But we found a way to win today.”
The win, in many ways, was more special given the circumstances Holland and his team faced last season – along with all spring sports in Arizona. The pandemic forced the cancellation of the season just a few weeks in. When the Wildcats took the field for the first game in over a year back in March, they set out to accomplish their goal of winning the state title.
They fell to Salpointe Catholic by a single run in 2019 and had the bitter taste of defeat in their mouths for two years.
But finally, it has all come full circle for the Wildcats.
“I think this win means more because they didn’t take anything for granted this year,” Holland said. “At the drop of a hat the season could’ve been over. They played every game like it was going to be their last. This is just a great group of men that came out and fought.”